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close this bookFood, Water and Family Health: A Manual for Community Educators (UNDP - WHO, 1994, 108 p.)
close this folderUnit 1: Healthy water and better sanitation
View the documentThe problems we have with water
View the documentWays to keep our water supply safe
View the documentGolden rules for safe water
View the documentImproving our environment ourselves
View the documentThe water committee
View the documentWays to make drinking water safer
View the documentLatrines

The problems we have with water

We have many problems with water. At times we have too much, but often we do not have enough. Let’s go for a walk together around our community and look at the problems we have with water. Maybe together we can find some solutions.

Getting water takes up a lot of time and energy. Usually water has to be carried a long way by women and young girls. Most of our water comes from small ponds, from streams and from the river. We also have open wells.

Our drinking water is not clean. It may look good, but if you “watch water” you will know it is not clean. “Watching water” means learning about where water comes from, how it is handled and where it goes.

In some places you will find open drains, and puddles filled with dirty water and faeces. We all want to be able to defecate in privacy. We must also remember that faeces in and near the community make life unhealthy, unsafe, and uncomfortable.


A few families have flimsy latrines, close to their homes. These latrines often collapse. They always smell because of the mounds of faeces lying on the ground.

Flies buzz around faeces passed by children who are too young to go into the bush, or who are afraid of flimsy latrines. Most adults believe that children’s faeces outside our homes are harmless, and it is hard to always clean up after them. But even the faeces of very young children can be dangerous and must be disposed of carefully.

Much of the mess in and around the community is washed into our water. At different times of the day we can see people urinating and defecating in or near our ponds, streams, and wells.

Our ancestors warned against defecating or urinating near water. We have forgotten their wisdom.

Our community is crowded now and so even more faeces get into the water. We can see broken water pumps, standpipes and abandoned latrines which were built years ago.

We collect water, drink and bathe alongside our animals. But do we really have any other choice?

During our walk we may see people who are sick from diseases caused by unclean water. Diarrhoea is very common and especially dangerous for young children. Often we have to rush them to the health centre. Many are saved. Some die.

Other diseases caused by unclean water and bad sanitation include cholera, typhoid, dysentery and bilharzia. Mosquitos which breed in puddles, borrow pits, open drains, slow moving streams, and ponds cause malaria, dengue fever, and other diseases.

But it isn’t just dirty water that causes problems. Malaria mosquitos especially like less polluted water. Another problem are worms that enter the body from water, food and faeces on the ground.


Take water-watching walks together in small groups of neighbours, students, members of community groups, water committees, or cooperatives.

Make a map of your community showing all sources of water, houses, and other places important to you.

On the map locate places where there is too much or too little water. Mark clean and unclean areas in different colours.

You can use the map in planning for safe water and sanitation in your community.


What would you like to change about how your family gets drinking water?

What does clean water look like? What does it taste like?

Do you or members of your family often have to drink unclean water? What can you do to make it clean?