A Right to Water

With millions of people living without access to clean drinking water, Global Health Ministries, with the help of the POET Foundation, is devoting time and money to fix the lack of this vital resource.

The community of Dumne, Nigeria, wears the summer heat like an itchy woolen blanket, reducing its residents down to a slow, dazed amble.

What breeze there is stirs tiny dust devils behind foot-falls over the hard-packed, pinkish-clay-dirt streets as residents – some 10,000 people live here, in the state of Adamawa in the northeastern part of the county – go about their daily business.

One of those every day chores is the search for fresh water.

Men and women shuffle in sandals and colorful, loose-fitting garments to one of the five community water sources in the city, seeking out hopefully a gallon or two for things like cooking and washing.

The problem is two of the bore-hole hand pumps are broken and useless. Two more bore-hole wells – iron pipes drilled into the soil to the water table, where it collects by gravity and is pumped to the surface by a hand-pump – have dried up, which happens every year in Dumne, when the dry season returns.

This leaves residents scrambling for a plastic bucket of water – the only water they’ll likely to get all day – from a hand-dug hole where livestock and pets also fetch a drink. Or they’ll be forced to wait at the one community well that still works – but it can take up to two hours to recharge so residents can pump another gallon or two before it goes dry again.

Many Dumne residents don’t wait. They simply can’t. They’ll find whatever open water source is close, a stream that’s most likely contaminated with human and animal waste. Or they will walk up to two miles to a dry riverbed, dig in the sand and take whatever water gathers there – tainted or not.

World-wide problem

It is a scene repeated everyday in portions of Africa, India, and Asia – in every place where people have little or no access to something as vital as fresh, potable water.

This lack of access has led to dire consequences for millions of people. And the problem isn’t likely to go away. According to the World Water Council, the world’s population tripled in the 20th century and the demands on renewable water resources has grown six-fold. Within the next 50 years, the world population is expected to bloom by another 40 to 50 percent.

That growth, complicated by more industrialization and urbanization, will result in an increasing demand for water, which will lead to serious consequences for people and the environment.

Consider these facts, drawn from the World Water Council and the World Health Organization:

• 1.1 billion people, or one in six, live without access to clean drinking water each and every day.

• 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation, or facilities that ensure the safe separation of human waste from human contact. In fact, more people have access to cellular telephones than they do to a proper bathroom.

• 1.8 million people die each year from water-borne diseases like cholera, malaria, hepatitis, giardiasis and diarrhea.

• 3,900 children die each day from the same water-borne diseases.

“Every child, every woman, every man on earth is entitled to water and sanitation,” the United Nations General Council declared in 2010. “This is the right to water. Our duty is to say when, how, where, and how. Our duty is to implement practical measures.”

While the UN General Assembly was making its declaration; plans, thoughts and ideas were taking shape in Middle America to make clean, fresh water available to those people across the globe that lack access.


Global Health Ministries, a faith-based organization with headquarters in Minneapolis, had spent years sending water teams to Africa and India to assess needs, build pumps and bring clinics to those most in need.

But more needs to be done, according to Executive Director Rev. Tim Iverson. So much that the Global Health Ministries mission has evolved to something more than sending money, missionaries, drugs and bandages to try and solve a problem.

“What is the best way to proceed with the work? We think it’s through education and outreach,” Iverson says. “Our emphasis over time has evolved in a way to sustain and to improve the health centers that we work with. Our real emphasis is outreach. It’s based on many years of research. One might build a shiny-new facility given location, and yet people will continue to die, or be subject to disease and infection in huge numbers within a 5-mile radius. They won’t even get to that shiny new facility.”

Bringing Life to a Village

In March 2010, Sioux Falls-based POET announced Ingreenuity, a comprehensive water conservation plan to reducing and reusing water use in the ethanol production process. The first phase of the plan calls for reducing the amount of water used in the production of ethanol by 22 percent in the next five years. When successful, Ingreenuity will cut the company’s water used per gallon of ethanol from an average of 3 gallons to 2.33 – an annual water savings of 1 billion gallons.

“The great thing about water is that it stays in the environment,” says Jeff Broin, POET Chief Executive Officer. “So the issue surrounding water is when you use too much of it in one area. With Ingreenuity, we’re looking at many different ways that we can have the least affect possible on our surroundings.”

To show that POET is serious about water conservation, Broin also announced a five-year, $420,000 grant to Global Health Ministries through the POET Foundation to help with its worldwide health outreach.

“We created the POET Foundation to share a portion of our success with those far less fortunate – and every POET team member can feel proud that they’re helping people far less fortunate than themselves around the world,” Broin says. “Clean water is vital to the stability of life, whether it be human life, animal life or plant life. It’s a basic necessity of humankind. There’s a verse that I live by, ‘Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.’ What we’re doing, in this case, is teaching a man to fish.”

That is exactly the way GHM sees its mission, Iverson says. GHM doesn’t just want to build wells for the people in Dumne, or any other community and region it hopes to serve, and just walk away.

“We want to bring life and hope to whole villages of people,” he says. “Our mission is very simple, very straight-forward, and that is to enhance the healthcare programs in other countries. And there are certainly ways in which we do that. In the coming year, we will focus on water projects in 22 pilot villages in Nigeria, and in each subsequent year that number will be increased until hundreds of villages where our team has completed assessments will have been serviced to sustain a supply of clean water for their residents.”

Part of that historical outreach, Iverson says, included making bandage rollers out of wood and wire coat hangers, so clinics could make their own bandages out of bed sheets. Or it saw its missionary work as sending medical supplies, building clinics and simply drilling water wells.

“Increasingly, we will go to an area and kind of start over, or to evaluate and re-build or re-tool what’s been going on in the country that usually calls for all the tools we have at our disposal,” Iverson says. “This is particularly pertinent for the Lutheran Church in Nigeria, where there’s a very heavy front-end emphasis on training.”

Long-term sustainability

Paul Nelson is a water engineer and the Natural Resources Manager for Scott County, Minnesota. Last year, he was part of a water team that traveled to Dumne as a part of a partnership with GHM.

“It wasn’t a sightseeing trip,” he says. “I was hoping to learn how to complete these water projects to benefit people in the short-term, but to make them sustainable in the long-term.”

Out of that visit, GHM received a water project application from Dumne in December. With a few suggestions from Nelson and the water team, the project will address:

•Repairing the two broken hand pumps, deepening and covering the hand dug well, installing a pump to reduce the potential for contamination and drilling a new bore-hole well to increase the number of year-round, functioning water supply points from one to five.

• A commitment by the community to participate in hygiene education and promotion, as well as to contribute financially and with labor and supplies to the project.

• Equipping the community with one set of common replacement pump parts and tools, training local villagers to maintain and repair the systems, and providing one year of technical assistance.

• The installation of a latrine and a hand-washing station at the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria dispensary, well away from the wells as to promote hygiene.

• A commitment by the community to keep records and a commitment from the Church to document the condition of the facilities over the next year to assess how the criteria worked, and to adapt and improve.

• A commitment by the community to organize a monthly fee collection system from families to finance future repairs.

The total cost of the project, minus the local community share for future repairs, is $8,000 – highly affordable by most American’s standards.

“It takes very little to get these projects going,” Nelson says. “What’s most exciting is that the project is fairly comprehensive and should make a meaningful difference for the community.”

Dumne’s wells were provided by the government, Nelson says. When he asked villagers why the pumps had fallen into such disrepair, the people just shrugged their shoulders and says the government had never been back.

And no one had been taught to do it for themselves.

“Needless to say, I came back with a sense of urgency to get some additional, reliable supplies to Dumne,” Nelson says. “There’s still a lot that needs to be done.”

Breaking the Cycle

What GHM wants to accomplish is education – thus allowing communities to lift themselves up from poverty and strife, Iverson says. What that means for Dumne – indeed for all the residents of the state of Adamawa – is to teach its people, in a sense, to fish.

Teach them to be self-sufficient for their future and their future generations. Give them the tools, the spare parts and the knowledge to take care of themselves.

“We’re not here to arrange for mission experiences for people who have declared themselves fit and ready for service,” Iverson says. “But rather we match people to the needs of a partner. And our water projects end up to be a way of preventing more than half the diseases that kill or disable the poor. That’s where the investment comes, where the priority comes in dealing with water and sanitation issues in the village settings.”

The POET grant will help Global Health Ministries kick off its community-based, primary healthcare initiative this year in Nigeria, a place of great beauty, but also crushing poverty.

“Having been to Nigeria, I know the need is great,” Nelson says, adding that Dumne had an outbreak of cholera this past September because of its water shortage. “But we want to create lasting solutions.”

“It’s obviously a way of thinking long-term, now the evidence is very clear, what the influence of clean water has on health and there’s a tendency to over look that, because it tends to be expensive,” says Dr. David Thompson, a pediatrician at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and a GHM board member.

In those countries with high death rates of infants and children under 5, Thompson says, 50 to 60 percent of the deaths can be prevented by community-based actions – without necessarily having a clinic in the community.

“This is building health from the ground up,” he says. “People have put all of their money into institutions, people get sick, come there, leave, get sick again and the cycle goes on. This intends to break that cycle within the community.”

Someday soon, Nelson says, residents in Dumne will work the metal handle of their water pumps and out will gush fresh, clean water – buckets and buckets of it. Children will giggle and scream and splash. Food will get more than a cursory rinse. People will lather their hands with soap and water after using new public bathrooms.

And if something should go wrong, there will be spare parts, tools – and villagers who will solve the problem for themselves.

“If it wasn’t for this grant, all this would still be an idea,” Thompson says. “The POET grant makes the startup of this project totally possible. Without it, we couldn’t do it.”




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