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Clean water is one of the few things in life that never fails to live up to expectations.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of having it. Really difficult. In fact, it’s probably impossible. Clean water changes almost everything.

Tapping the benefits

Let’s start with the obvious things. Having clean water and sanitation means being able to avoid exposure to countless diseases. Every year millions of people die from diseases caused by inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Other than pneumonia, diarrhoea is the main cause of death in children under five.

Young girls who spent hours collecting water can now be in school instead

Poor sanitation and unsafe water cause nearly 20% of workplace deaths (pdf, 450 Kb). It costs around CHF 260 billion in lost productivity every year.

But the benefits of having a source of clean water in a community are much, much wider. When women and girls no longer have to walk miles to fetch water each day, they have more time to learn. Literacy rates rise. And when schools build proper toilet facilities, girls spend more time in school and less time at home.

The UN estimates that every Swiss franc invested in water and sanitation leads to CHF 4 in economic returns. Which is why investing in this area is such an effective way of creating stronger, more resilient communities.

Connecting communities

In Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa, 63% of the population lacks access to proper sanitation. People often have to walk miles to collect water which may not even be safe to drink, as well as use open air, unhygienic shared toilets.

The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) is working across Côte d’Ivoire to extend access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

Girl washing hands
School children are educated about importance of hand-washing

As the IFRC’s longest-standing corporate partner, Nestlé has helped to deliver clean water and sanitation to almost 110,000 people in Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa-growing communities for the past 10 years.

A total of 181 water pumps and 93 blocks of school toilets have been built or renovated as well as more than 7,000 family latrines.

Education has been an essential part of the effort too. More than 200 community water and sanitation committees and 93 school hygiene clubs have been established since 2007.

Their members promote hygiene in their local area. They teach people how to store water safely, how to build safe sanitation facilities and teach children how to wash their hands well. Sometimes it is the simplest measures that have the biggest effect.

"Our grandchildren will not suffer…"

Adjoua is a 55-year-old widow from the village of Ndri Koffikro in the south of Côte d’Ivoire. She recalls that ever since she was young, her community’s biggest wish has been to have access to safe drinking water. Traditionally, residents relied on ponds and a river nestled in a forest two kilometres away for their water.

110,000 people in Côte d’Ivoire
now have access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities

Before the IFRC committed to building a water point in the village, it made sure a viable management system could be set up with community members. A management committee, which consists of six women and two men from the village, oversees the operation and maintenance of the water point and handles the accounts related to the income generated from selling water.

It ensures that the investment made in the water point will live on for generations.

"Now I and my community members will have more time and energy to take care of our family as well as our farming activities," says Adjoua. "Our grandchildren will not suffer all the pains we went through."

Safe water and better hygiene reduce the burden of ill health on families and allow women more time to earn their own income. An end to open defecation means people are safer – particularly at night – and the land is cleaner and the crops healthier.

Meaningful progress

Education programmes teach school children good hygiene habits

Some 768 million people still do not have access to an improved source of drinking water, 40% of them in sub-Saharan Africa. There is still a long way to go. But progress is being made.

With the programme up and running successfully in Côte d’Ivoire, the next phase of the project has already begun in Ghana where wells are now being constructed. Over 76,000 people in cocoa producing communities that Nestlé works with will have better access to clean water and sanitation by the end of 2017.

By bringing basic hygiene knowledge alongside the clean water, the IFRC programme ensures that the health benefits of its work endure.