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Water and COVID-19 Appeal

Water is one of our most basic needs, and in the midst of a pandemic, access to clean water, soap and handwashing facilities provide the first line of defence against COVID-19. These things are a lifeline to us all.

But whilst we take it for granted that we can simply turn on the tap to get clean water, and easily grab a bar of soap, for children in the village of Charmen in Nianija District, the poorest and most remote parts of The Gambia, this is just not an option.

In a community already battered by extreme poverty, vulnerable to climate change, crippling droughts and seasonal flooding, people are desperate for clean water. Over 1000 people, the majority of whom are children, get all their water from one shallow communal well with a rope-bucket-pulley system. 

When the well dries up, the community fetches water from a nearby stream. Both sources are contaminated with faeces, bacteria, parasites, sewage and animal waste. What is more, hand washing facilities are non-existent, soap is a luxury few can afford, and the benefits of good hygiene are not understood.

This situation was having a major impact on the health and well-being of all the villagers, the children in particular. The water they drink transmits diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and polio, contributes to dehydration and stunting, and is a contributing factor in the deaths of many.

Time spent fetching water accounts for the majority of all school absences and prevents parents from working, limiting their chances of generating much needed income.  The people of Charmen have almost no way to protect themselves from COVID-19, they simply do not have the same tools that we all take for granted.     

This is why in May 2022, we provided access to much needed all-year-round clean water, hand washing facilities and run hygiene awareness campaigns to promote the habit of hand washing with soap.

All of these measures are proving to be a lifeline to the community and benefit the people in many ways:

Education: children are freed from collecting water and school absences due to sickness are reduced. This enables many more children to access education for the first time and many more to continue their schooling, greatly improving their chances in life.

Empowerment: girls and women are responsible for retrieving water in the majority of households. The hours spent each day travelling to, and waiting at, water points are now greatly reduced, meaning more girls can attend school. It also allows women work, helping them lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Food security: easy and reliable access to water enables families to grow crops all year round and the Charmen Primary School finally has a vegetable garden to improve children’s diets.

COVID-19: families are better equipped to deal with the pandemic and to reduce the spread of the virus.

Health: even though people in the village know the water they drunk was polluted causing diseases, they had no other choice but to drink it. With access to clean water and washing facilities incidence of illness are reduced and hundreds of families given the chance for a healthier life.

Poverty: lack of access to consistent sources of clean water, and the lack of effective hygiene practices, is an insurmountable obstacle to breaking the cycle of poverty, as families cannot grow food, build houses, stay healthy or go to school and work. The WHO shows that 15 for every $1 invested in water and sanitation there is an economic return of between $3 and $34!