“I can still remember the nights as a six-year-old boy I spent fetching water for my family,” said Liu Pangbo.
“The water point was more than a kilometer away from my village, and I had to walk back and forth many times in the dark. My deepest memory is the rough roads leading to the water point and the graveyard on the way that I was so frightened to pass.”
Water is a major issue in the Guangyuan area of the Sichuan district in China, where Pangbo now serves as a program manager for the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC). There are many people, usually children and the elderly, who walk for more than two hours daily in a mountainous area in order to get adequate water.
The situation became even more dire after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck the region in 2008. But because of the joint effort of the American Red Cross and RCSC Guangyuan Branch, “people’s lives are changing every day,” said Pangbo.
Pangbo participated in the program from the beginning, and still remembers how difficult progress has been. After the earthquake, few organizations were working in the region because of access issues. The area is remote, and getting to project sites takes hours, with travel on narrow, precarious and muddy roads. On the good days, that is.
Pangbo and his American Red Cross colleague Ramsey Rayyis have hiked in foot-deep mud for kilometers, up steep hillsides, and had near-death experiences on dangerous icy roads, all to help establish and reach water sites that were otherwise inaccessible, and previously didn’t exist. Despite the risks, the outcome has been worth the effort.
As a result of the program, people can drink, wash and cook from home taps 24/7, with high-level water quality that simply wasn’t available in their lives before. The water is regularly tested by their local CDC, and is required to meet strict guidelines of specifications and treatment control.
The hygiene education component of the program has helped inform the communities of better habits and has raised their health awareness. Children have learned to wash their hands before meals, and households pay more attention to improving sanitary conditions of their kitchens and latrines.
In total, initiated as part of the longer-term Sichuan Earthquake recovery efforts, the American Red Cross has supported the development of seven main water systems benefiting 19 villages, 11 clinics and four schools, reaching more than 13,650 people. The project has also contributed to improved roads that were built in the development of water systems and material transportation. Water management committees comprised of trained specialists and community members have been established in each of the communities to maintain the well function of the water systems.
The Sichuan Water Program is not only contributing to improved access and sanitation, but according to Pangbo, better prepared communities.
“I can see that people’s lives are changing every day through our program,” said Pangbo.
“Every time I visit, I am surrounded by people who can not wait to tell how much the quality of their lives and their water has improved. I am confident that with much better access to clean drinking water and stronger hygiene awareness, the capacity of people there to cope with future disasters is greatly enhanced.”
This program is part of a Global Water and Sanitation Initiative (GWSI) among Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies to establish large-scale, long-term sustainable water and sanitation solutions. Nearly 2.6 billion people worldwide lack access to improved sanitation and 800 million lack improved water supplies. As a result, 2 million die annually as a result, mostly children under five. The Initiative, in combination with UN partners, intends to target 15 million vulnerable people worldwide over 10 years, assisting them in gaining access to improved water supplies, basic sanitation facilities and improved hygiene practices. For more information on GWSI, visit ifrc.org.