The United Nations General Assembly established March 22 as World Water Day in 1933 to promote the wise stewardship of this most precious natural resource.

The theme for 2017 is wastewater, but, with a twist, we can make the theme even more meaningful by urging everyone not to waste water or the opportunity to use it wisely so that globally everyone can have access to it, particularly for safe drinking.

The wise use and reuse of water is all too often wasted while opportunities to eliminate an intolerable global water crisis needlessly flow by day after day.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is actively engaged to stop wasted opportunities to let water flow to the drinking water needs of the most vulnerable people in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Approximately 60 million people in Ethiopia and Kenya are deprived of access to safe drinking water.

They face devastating disasters, such as polluted drinking water, extreme poverty, recurring droughts and failed development policies and initiatives that do not distribute water equitably.

Women and girls in particular suffer intensely from this inequity. They are assigned to do the backbreaking job of hauling the family water supply long distances on a daily basis.

Because there are no alternatives, families drink the diseased water without understanding the consequences.

Women and girls also are robbed of precious time to do more productive things like getting an education and generate income. However, they are often excluded from even these basic opportunities.

To exacerbate the difficult living conditions, these countries experience recurring droughts that cause major setbacks for the subsistence farmers that can least afford the negative consequences.

Access to safe drinking water is foundational to all human development so there is a sense of urgency to address this work as a first priority.

Unfortunately, too many people still suffer from lack of access even while there are very significant groundwater resources that can be tapped to bring relief. What a waste not to tap this available resource.

CBF has helped more than 200,000 beneficiaries transform their lives and communities in Ethiopia and Kenya.

The beneficiaries are gathered from among the forgotten and poor in communities where even basic opportunities seemed out of reach with the potential of so many families on the brink of being wasted.

Participants have been able to overcome a sense of powerlessness and personal entrapment in a diabolical spiral into poverty. Their renewed outlook is filled with dignity, respect and potential.

To put them on this new trajectory of hopeful purpose and direction, CBF works through local churches in three interrelated core activities:

1. Build safe drinking water points by drilling new wells (more than 400), repairing broken pumps, developing springs and harvesting rainwater to provide a solid foundation for good development and to meet a fundamental human right of access.

2. Establish a network of sustainable living teams, or SLTs, which are simple savings and credit associations. The SLTs create a dynamic, intrinsic and consistent learning environment that improves health, restores dignity, builds trust and creates confidence to generate more income by managing small businesses effectively.

3. Train subsistence farmers in conservation agriculture to mitigate against droughts and economic downturns as part of a disaster risk management strategy.

However, simply providing hardware for a new or rehabilitated well and forming a water user committee does not necessarily translate into desirable behaviors that will improve health and economic growth.

Engineered solutions alone do not change attitudes. A long-term strategy is needed to cultivate a learning environment that enables and empowers communities to chart their own future.

CBF’s strategy uses a network of sustainable living teams as the social glue and leverage needed for real change to take place. There is now a network of more than 500 SLTs in areas where wells have been constructed.

Gaining access to safe drinking water is not affordable for most Africans when governments fail to take proper measures and provide basic supplies.

While we advocate for more robust action on the part of governments, the generosity of Americans is needed to fill the gap without creating dependencies.

The average American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day. The largest usage is for flushing toilets and bathing, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

CBF urges Americans to reduce water use and pass the savings on to those who need access to that fundamental right of clean drinking water.

To reserve a day in the year is nice to be reminded of our responsibility, but we all know that a day never goes by that we don’t think of drinking and using water for ourselves.

Let’s use that daily reminder to help our friends in places like Ethiopia and Kenya.

David Harding serves as CBF field personnel facilitator of global disaster response. He is also executive director of Water Is Life International, created together with his wife, Merrie, for field service in Ethiopia.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles for World Water Day 2017 (March 22) focused on Baptist initiatives to provide clean water around the world.

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