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There are 1.8 billion people whose sources of water — one of the necessities of life — put their health at risk. Contaminated water causes illness, malnutrition and even death. Every day, nearly 1,000 children under the age of 5 die from water-related diseases that are preventable.
This global issue is all-too apparent in northern Peru. Families from the districts of Tambogrande, Las Lomas and Morropón have never had regular access to safe, clean water. Environmental conditions in these communities led to water scarcity: the air is often hot, the ground is dry and rain rarely visits.
Many years ago their only sources of water were polluted canals and rivers that were used for bathing and laundry and were contaminated with animal waste. Local authorities have improved access to cleaner water for these regions through sources such as newly built wells and water trucks, but the water they provided — although better — was still not safe to drink.
Unsafe water rarely announces its danger. Harmful contaminants are invisible, and so the men, women, and children in these villages — as they do in so many parts of the developing world — would mysteriously, and often, fall sick.
Waterborne illness has many profound and lasting impacts: children are at risk of malnutrition, which can lead to stunted development and missed days in school; and adults are forced to take sick days away from work. These setbacks only further the cycle of poverty in the affected communities.
In 2012, hope arrived in two powerful forms: tools and education. Clorox brought its Safe Water Project to villages in Peru in order to provide families with safe water for drinking, cooking and food preparation. Through a local NGO partner named PRISMA, bleach dispensers were installed at public water collection sites. Local village leaders were also taught how — and why — to treat the water and were trained on good health and hygiene practices. They also learned to train others so that these communities could educate, organize and empower themselves to sustain the project into the future.
Why bleach? Its primary ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, is one of the most powerful disinfectants. A few drops kill over 99 percent of viruses and bacteria commonly found in contaminated water, leaving the water safe for consumption.
Treating contaminated water with sodium hypochlorite isn’t a new practice, but it did provide a creative solution to a widespread problem. Sodium hypochlorite is safely used in municipal water treatment facilities around the world. Now, through The Safe Water Project, this water treatment technique is helping the communities in Peru that so desperately need it.
Bernadina Torres Crisanto is one of the trained community leaders who help manage the bleach dispensers and teach others about the connection between unsafe water, invisible germs and illness. The efforts of Bernadina and others have increased community engagement in the project and encouraged communities to take ownership and invest in their own futures.
The strong community participation has created ripples. Now, the Safe Water Project has joined forces with the local public health ministry and clinics, water treatment officials, and municipal leaders to create action plans that will drive improvements into the future.
In the villages that participate in The Safe Water Project, life has changed. Now, over 100 million liters of safe drinking water reach 25,000 people in 21 communities every year. These communities are more informed and empowered to sustain the project into the future.
Clean water is a necessity in life. Unfortunately, this precious resource that many take for granted isn’t available to everyone. The Safe Water Project is trying to change that.
To learn more about it, please visit the Clorox Website.