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Digging for buried treasure

By Nathalie Moberg
Jan 20, 2015
In a bold response to deadly drought spreading across Africa in the early 1980s, World Vision and its partners set their sights on providing clean water to parched communities. What began in Ghana in 1985 today is a movement to provide clean water worldwide — because every child deserves disease-free water.
© Jon Warren/World Vision
A drilling crew member smiles after water is tapped in Ghana’s Tampiong community.
© Jon Warren/World Vision
As clean water erupts from the ground, Tampiong’s community members celebrate the advent of a new life together.
©1991 Jon Warren/World Vision
Rose Akyemah and other Asikam village volunteers repair one of three well pumps World Vision installed in 1991.

No one could blame the leaders of northern Ghana’s arid Savelugu community for wondering if they would ever receive the precious gift of clean water.

Multiple searches for underground water sources had failed, and hydrologists eventually concluded what no one wanted to hear: There was no water to be tapped beneath the community’s parched landscape.

Despite the dire conclusion, in early 1999, clean water erupted from the ground. The “no water” myth gave way to what the local people called “God’s miracle.” They celebrated as World Vision drilled two wells that brought water spurting from the earth at an abundant 79 gallons per minute.

Alhaji Abduai Haruna, the district executive, said with amazement, “What is your secret, World Vision?”

The “secret” is a triad of clean water solutions that begins with faith in God, the Giver of water. “The ‘secret sauce’ is that our staff love the poor,” says Greg Allgood, World Vision U.S. vice president of water development. “The reason we do this is that we follow the teachings of Jesus, who loves the poor and teaches us to give water to the thirsty.”

In addition, long-term partnerships between World Vision and thousands of corporations, foundations, and individual donors are in place to provide God’s gift of clean water to rural communities. Finally, World Vision’s presence in a community for up to 18 years allows time not only for successful well drilling, but also time for community members to learn water system management, including maintenance and repairs.

When these three practices came together in Savelugu, life was transformed. Gone are the days when mothers like Haijia Adamu Disco, who lost four sons to waterborne diseases, live in fear that more of her children would die. Today, Haijia calls World Vision duma zaa deba — the people who help the world.

Like Haijia, millions of parents in Ghana and beyond no longer dread that their children will die from drinking dirty water. Before, waterborne pathogens or parasites like guinea worm were ingested as larvae and grew in the human host until they were several feet long. The worm exited the body by breaking through the arms or legs in a slow and excruciating process. Infected adults couldn’t work, and sick children dropped out of school.

But as more wells were drilled, guinea worm no longer threatened families. Dr. Joe Riverson, World Vison’s national director in Ghana in the early 1990s, recalls the immediate difference the new wells made across Ghana.

“The clean water contributed to increased productivity of farmers, who were mostly affected with guinea worm during the farming season,” he says. “It also improved the well-being of children, who were enabled to attend school. Water also allowed World Vision to authentically demonstrate God’s love for them.”

Guinea worm is now eradicated in Ghana. As more wells were drilled, the long-term partnership among World Vision, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and private donors continued to reduce more waterborne diseases — trachoma, typhoid, cholera, and more. In Ghana alone, deaths among children younger than 5 dropped from 120 deaths per 1,000 in 1990 to 69 deaths per 1,000 in 2009.

World Vision’s work of supplying clean water across Africa began in Ghana in 1985, largely in response to the deep drought and famine that spread across sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1980s. Teaming up with USAID, World Vision initially set its sights on providing clean water in Ghana alone. That vision gradually expanded, until today, World Vision is the world’s largest provider of clean water in rural communities.

Emmanuel Opong began working for World Vision the same year drilling began in Ghana. A rural Ghana native, Emmanuel knows firsthand what life was like as a boy growing up without clean water.

“It’s stressful, time-consuming, and dangerous,” he says. “We had to go down into a very deep well that needed three to four of us at the same time. One would scoop the water into a bucket and lift it to the next person. Some of my friends fell into the well and died.”

Thirty years after he began working for World Vision in Ghana, Emmanuel’s passion for clean water continues as he ensures communities throughout Southern Africa receive the life-saving gift of fresh water.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation joined World Vision in 1990 to expand drilling into Mali and Niger, replicating the success achieved in Ghana. Since 2006, inspired to move beyond the arid countries of West Africa, World Vision and its partners are providing clean water in rural Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Zambia.

Millions globally have not only clean water, but the basic sanitation and hygiene education that further reduces the spread of disease: effective handwashing, safe food storage and garbage disposal, toilet construction, and more. When clean water is combined with knowledge, deadly waterborne diseases nearly disappear.

Despite significant gains, World Vision and its water partners are far from done.

“We believe that every child deserves clean water, and we’ll not rest until this is achieved,” Greg says. “We believe we can solve the global water crisis within our lifetimes. This is not just a hope, but something we are working to make happen.”

In Ghana’s Savelugu community — and in thousands of communities around the globe—that commitment overflows into the lives of millions, spilling over into God’s miracle of new health, opportunity, and hope.

Wells that keep working

Even though research shows that Africa is full of broken wells, a recent independent study found that nearly 80 percent of World Vision wells continue to provide clean water for decades. The study was conducted in Ghana by the University of North Carolina Water Institute and Water and Sanitation for Africa, revealing that wells continue to function best when they are maintained and repaired.

World Vision not only provides the well, but also trains a community to maintain and repair it. A community water committee also oversees the well, and a small fee is collected from community members to cover the cost of maintenance and repairs.

We believe that every child deserves clean water, and we’ll not rest until this is achieved.
Dr. Greg Allgood, World Vision U.S. vice president of water development
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