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Raise Community Awareness

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 6: Protecting Community Water > Raise Community Awareness

A group of women gather to talk near some makeshift dwellings.

A woman who carries water long distances every day does not need to be told it is hard work. But she may not feel she has the power to change that.

When people see the need for a reliable and safe water supply as a problem shared by all, they can begin to work together to make changes. Raising community awareness is often the first stage in making changes, and usually involves a group of people raising community awareness together.

Talk to the people in charge of the water

Is there a person, group, or business responsible for wells, pipes, or other water supply systems? Is there a person or group responsible for sanitation? Which people or groups most often collect, carry, treat, and store the water?

Together with the people responsible for the water, list all the water sources in the area. What do people say about drinking water quality and quantity? How much water is used every day? Are different sources used for drinking, cooking, bathing, watering livestock, farming, and other needs? Is there enough water for all these needs? Is there a water source or water storage for emergencies?

Visit the places where people collect water

map of a village.

Different kinds of water sources can have different problems and different solutions. Visit springs, wells, sources of surface water (rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds), and rainwater catchment sites. At each water source, start a discussion about how this water is used and whether anyone suspects it is contaminated (not safe).

Make a map of local water sources and sources of contamination

Your map can show where the water sources are in relation to people's homes and to sources of contamination. Use different colors to show safe water sources and contaminated sources.

Is your water safe?

It is difficult to know if water is safe or not. Some things that cause health problems are easily noticed by looking at, smelling, or tasting the water. Others can be found only by testing the water. Understanding what makes water unsafe and taking steps to protect water from contamination prevents many health problems (see Chapter 5).

Clear water might not be clean water

This activity shows how there may be something harmful in the water even if it cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted.

Time: 15 to 30 minutes

Materials: 4 clear bottles, mud, salt, sugar, treated water

  1. Before the activity, fill 4 clear bottles with water that has been boiled, treated with chlorine, or had some other treatment to make it safe. To one bottle, add a spoonful of mud. To another, add a spoonful of sugar. To a 3rd, add a spoonful of salt. Shake the bottles well. Add nothing to the last bottle. Bring these bottles to the group.
  2. Ask people in the group to smell the water in all the bottles. Then invite them to drink water from any of the bottles. Most likely no one will drink the muddy water, but many will drink from the other bottles.
  3. A woman holding a cup licks her fingers.
  4. After several people have drunk the water, ask them why they did not drink from the muddy water bottle. Then ask what their water tasted like, and what did they think was in it. Did anyone drink the water with nothing added to it? Ask them how they knew it was just water, and did not contain something they could not see, smell, or taste.
  5. Begin a discussion about things that may be in your water that make it unsafe to drink. This could include germs that cause diarrhea, blood flukes that cause schistosomiasis, and pesticides or other chemicals. Are there reasons to believe these things may be in your water? Are there other ways besides looking and smelling to know if water is safe or unsafe?

Testing for water safety

a water-testing kit.
Water quality tests show only if the water was contaminated at the time and place the water sample was taken.

Water quality testing is often done by examining samples of water in a laboratory. These tests show the type and amount of contamination and are usually necessary to find chemical contamination. But they can be costly. While useful, water quality testing is usually less important than raising community awareness of water issues and careful protection of water sources.

Some water testing kits can be used locally to test water for germs. For example, the "H2S test" is low cost (5 tests cost about 1 dollar) and gives quick results. But this test sometimes mistakes harmless living things for germs, and it does not show if chemicals or parasite eggs are in the water.