Puddles are for splashing in, not drinking: Why WaterAid lined London's V&A gardens with 144 pairs of wellington boots

Tuesday, 1 December 2020 11:42 GMT

WaterAid/Ollie Dixon: Archie, 2, from London admires 144 pairs of brightly coloured willies, laid out by WaterAid in the garden of London’s V&A to highlight the 144 million children, women and men worldwide who rely on surface water like ponds, lakes and even puddles for drinking and washing in.

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

With autumn comes the simple pleasure for children of splashing in puddles whether clad in their wellies or in less appropriate footwear.

We believe puddles are for splashing in, not for drinking yet today for 144 million people across the world the only source of water are dirty puddles, ponds and lakes.  

To highlight this injustice, WaterAid took over the grounds of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where we lined the pond in the John Madejski garden with 144 pairs of brightly-coloured wellies as a moving tribute to the millions of men, women and children who rely on surface water for drinking, washing and cooking.

It was a striking scene seeing the son of a WaterAid staff member - two-year-old Archie - enjoying himself splashing in the water alongside all those wellies, each pair representing a staggering one million people whose health and opportunities are compromised by having to collect and drink dirty water.  

In addition to those drinking from surface water are  those taking water from wells which are not safe – perhaps uncovered and liable to contamination. In total one in ten people globally do not have even a basic source of clean water within a half hour round trip, leaving them with no choice but to drink water that makes them sick. The daily drudgery of collecting water usually falls to women and children, often making them miss school or keeping them from earning a living. Every day, 800 children under the age of five die needlessly because of sickness caused by dirty water and poor sanitation.

The community of Frat in Amhara, western Ethiopia is just one of many thousands without clean water. Families collect water from either the river or a large pond, both of which are dirty and treacherous. Smallholder farmer Animut and his family mainly rely on the pond, which resembles a giant puddle, is surrounded by mud, full of leeches, and also used by animals. It fills up during the rainy season and dries up in the summer. Over the years, the amount of water has been decreasing as the climate changes, and the unpredictable weather has also affected the crops, their only source of income.

When parents like Animut are busy farming, their children have to collect water. Recently, his seven-year-old daughter Aynadis returning from the pond with a heavy jerry can of water become stuck in the thick mud fell and broke her arm. The savings put away to buy a sheep for the farm went on taking her to the doctor several miles away and the little girl had to miss school while she was recovering. All for an injury that would not have happened if their village had clean water available.

This isn’t the life Animut wants for his daughter. “Were it not for the poverty and the problems that face us, I would not have allowed even myself to go into this cold, muddy water let alone my little girl,” he said. “The water is dirty; we use it because we have no other option. Being free from having to drink this worm-infested pond will make a good difference to our health.”

Animut’s wish for his children is that they get a good education, so they can build a better future for themselves. WaterAid is working to bring clean water to Frat, so children like Animut’s will be healthier, safer, and will have more time to go to school and pursue their dreams. With clean water on tap, they will also be able to grow fruit and vegetables even when the weather is unpredictable.

This year has been an uncertain one, and it has also highlighted the importance of clean water to keep us clean and healthy and to prevent the spread of disease. Clean water can transform lives, as well as building resilience for whatever the future holds.

Through our Future on Tap appeal, WaterAid is aiming to raise £3 million to help transform lives for families in Ethiopia and around the world to help them give their children the future they deserve. The UK Government will match public donations made by 4 February 2021, up to £2 million, making double the difference in climate-vulnerable communities.

Find out more at www.wateraid.org.