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The importance of water in rural communities

Rural communities around the world, particularly in the developing world, have never, to our knowledge, been categorised as either having reasonable access to clean water, or not. They are typically analysed under the umbrella of the word “underdeveloped”, without an acknowledgement of the natural resources that lie around them. Besides, one would be forgiven for thinking that rural communities with access to water have it easy when it comes to fulfilling the water supply demands of their inhabitants; on closer look, it becomes apparent that the answer to the problem is not as easy as one might think.

In the contemporary world, where a number of formerly underdeveloped communities are catching up fast with the levels of development and sanitation we are accustomed to in the west, it has become clear that access to clean and drinkable water is one of the key elements that facilitate progress in rural communities. This factor alone determines the following milestones of a community’s development curve:

  • Ensuring that everyone in the community has sufficient drinking water promotes health.
  • Sufficient access to water will ensure fights over water control are minimised, allowing the community to concentrate its efforts on its own development.
  • The women who spend their days on long journeys carrying water become an active part of the community’s workforce.
  • Adequate sanitation prevents the spreading of easily-avoidable diseases.

There are rural communities in areas of the planet where access to clean and drinkable water is plentiful. Equatorial areas in the Amazon, the great forests of Central Africa and South East Asia receive many liters of rainfall every year, particularly during the rainy season. In such areas it is not difficult to find aquifers of clean water that often manifest themselves in the form of springs, easily spotted while walking in the rainforest. Typically found a few miles away from the villages, in low lands where houses cannot be built due to risk of flooding, these springs fill up during the wet season. As the climatic conditions are extremely humid all year round, the springs remain full all year until the next monsoon arrives. The members of the rural communities nearby are likely to obtain their water supplies from these sources.

Springs of clean water found in the tropical rainforests, however, are not always a blessing for the communities. Animals can at times monopolise the source of water. A greater hazard is presented by stagnant water, where harmful bacteria can grow, compromising the drinking quality of the water. The crucial challenge for a developing community with access to a natural water spring is to raise sufficient funds to build a water well, typically fitted with a mechanical water filter made of varying sizes of rubble which guarantees the purity of the drinking water. Unfortunately, such solutions often present communities with a greater challenge than they can face given their economic condition, so the intervention gets postponed for years.

Luckily, there are numerous programs, run both by NGO’s and governments, aimed at helping the development of these communities by virtue of providing a good water well – a real gift for the community at large!

A far greater problem is faced, on the other hand, by developing communities located in arid, semi-arid or desert areas, such as the Atacama desert or certain areas of the Argentinian Pampas in Latin America or any of the deserts in the African continent. An example of a community that invariably struggles with severe droughts due to the arid climatic conditions of its natural environment is Tucumán, in Northern Argentina. This has prevented the area from developing at the same rate as the south of the country.

Where government and NGO-funded initiatives are available for these communities, often the procedure required to guarantee their access to clean and drinkable water presents a far greater challenge, both at the level of the infrastructure that is required and the funds needed to introduce significant changes.

On the other hand urban environments face different challenges regarding access to clean water.