Community Involvement and Education

The Mission 2017 Declarations of Water Access require that states protect and promote the rights of their people. In recent decades, water security has become an increasingly heated debate and increasing access to clean water has been designated as a UN Millenium Development Goal [1]. Mission 2017 promotes ensuring education access for children in developing nations to promote political participation and environmentally sustainable behaviors. The implementation for this goal is to focus water security efforts around schools, thus assisting children in their academic pursuits and freeing them of many of their daily labors.

The Dublin Principles

After a completing extensive research and hosting a series of discussions, over 500 researchers, government experts and water-related leaders at the 1992 World Summit defined and accepted the Dublin Principles. The Dublin Principles serve as a guiding outline of resolving water security issues which ties closely to Mission 2017’s focus on water security. They outline and address the central issues surrounding water security and provide a foundation for many potential solutions. Since their founding, these principles have remained widely accepted. [2].

The Dublin Principles are as follows:

  1. Water is a finite, vulnerable and essential resource which should be managed in an integrated manner.
  2. Water resources development and management should be based on a participatory approach.
  3. Women play a central role in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water.
  4. Water has an economic value and should be recognized as an economic good, taking into account affordability and equity criteria [3].

While not always realistic, the Dublin Principles outline how water should be treated as a resource and create a foundation for Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM). IWRM addresses the three goals of water management: social equality, economic efficiency, and ecological sustainability [3]. Through implementation, IWRM has shown successes in many cases. Singapore, which previously suffered from physical water scarcity, implemented a series of solutions similar to those suggested by IWRM. Ten years after these solutions were implemented, Singapore achieved water security. Many of Singapore’s programs to increase participation, assign water an economic value, respect water as a finite resource, and recognize household influences in water management currently remain in practice and have contributed to the 40 year continuation of Singapore’s water security [4][5]. Cases such as Singapore contribute to over twenty years of supporting evidence of IWRM and the Dublin Principles.

Two of the four Dublin Principles call directly upon the population [3]. Unfortunately, due to unequal distribution of power and insufficient education, many developing countries lack the community involvement and social empowerment called for by the Dublin Principles. While nationalizing water management has increased political leverage in transboundary agreements and increased economic opportunity by inviting industry, these benefits often come at the expense of many local communities. The people who suffer the most from lack of water (particularly the poor, women and children) often have little political influence, and improvements are rarely made due to inefficient governance and an undereducated society [6]. In order to promote the influence of these people, active political participation should be fostered within communities.

Getting involved

Involving a community of people in water resource development depends on open discussion and cooperation between the people and varying levels of government. Though national governments dictate overarching water regulation policy, most water-related problems are local and only affect a handful of communities [6]. Because of this, communities need to be able to address the issues that, on a national scale, might otherwise go unresolved. Examples of the need to shift away from nationalized control of water resource and toward local authority can be seen in the cases of Sudan and Plachimada, India.

The Sudanese government attempted two large scale agricultural reforms: the Agricultural Revival Program (ARP) in 1970s and a similar Agricultural Revival in the 2000s. Sudan’s government poured huge amounts of money to bring more land under cultivation, supply it with water, and give credit freely [21]. Policies were employed by the Sudanese Government to make foreign investment easier such as cutting red tape, privatizing government-owned production enterprises, handing out tax waivers, and allowing long-term leasing of the land [21]. The funding for Sudan’s agricultural reforms came from the Arab Gulf states and China, and food was exported to those countries. In return, Sudan was supposed to benefit from the technology and management skills that these foreign countries could bring to the table [21]. As part of its plan for agricultural development, the government created the Sudanese Dam Program to develop its irrigation systems. This program has resulted in the relocation of thousands of people: in 2011 there were protests over the dam projects in Merowe and Kajbar, which displaced more than 50,000 people [21]. This situation demonstrates that leaving the public out of the decision making process results in conflict. Sudan’s agricultural reforms and dam projects have not benefited the smallholder farmers: many locals can’t find employment on the big farms set up by foreign investors [21]. Sudan’s agricultural reforms have led to famine and increased impoverishment for the Sudanese people. The main failing of Sudan’s approach to development was that it was a narrowly-focused “top-down” approach – the millions of small farmers in Sudan were not included in the development plan.

Development in developing countries should focus on small landholders and try to elevate them above the level of subsistence farming through public-private partnerships and cooperatives. Often smallholders have land with a significant agricultural potential but they don’t have enough capital to invest in development. In a smallholder’s cooperative farmers pool their land to attract investors. A portion of the land is given to company and in return the company builds irrigation infrastructure, which increases the productivity of the land. This strategy is already being implemented in parts of Africa. In a sample case in Zambia, 120 smallholders pooled their land and gave 80 percent of it to the company and divided the remaining 20 percent among themselves. The company began building in-field irrigation in 2008. After 25 years, the land will be returned to the original farmers [21].

A second example of the advantages of community influence in major water decisions is the impact of The Coca-Cola Company on Plachimada, India. After the Coca-Cola Company began producing its soda in Plachimada, local groundwater sources were consumed at an unsustainable rate; within two years, the groundwater was noticeably depleted, affecting the local population’s access to potable water. Years of resource abuse later, the local government recognized the severity of Coca-Cola’s actions and revoked its industrial license. A series of debates followed, and the High Court of India demanded that Plachimada restore Coca-Cola’s license, siding against the people and in the favor of business. Following this decision, the people of Plachimada carried out a series of vigils and silent protests outside the Coca-Cola plant. The frequency, size, and intensity of these displays have shut the site down since 2007 [7][8].

In the case of Coca-Cola in Plachimada, the peoples’ willingness to get involved in water security ultimately saved them from the complete destruction of their freshwater sources. The solution suggested by IWRM in situations such as these is to transfer decision-making powers to local people and governments, leaving national governments with broad powers to create policies to prevent abuse, protections of freshwater resources, and enforcements of individual rights [6]. Reforming current top-down water management policies into a bottom-up decision making process, however, is not always realistic. As an alternative to restructuring water resource management, educational programs can be implemented to teach communities suffering from water scarcity how to improve their water resources and to encourage these communities to become politically active in arguing for their right to water.


Increased education has been shown to foster political activity, giving people a stronger inclination to speak out for change, like the people of Plachimada. An educated population is better able to recognize abuses, speak up in their best interest, and argue for reforms when needed. Communication between national and local governments is facilitated, which allows people to manage local water security issues in a timely and efficient manner [9]. Giving people the power and the knowledge to improve their own quality of life is an important step toward creating a society committed to water security. By educating populations on how they influence the quality of local water supplies, contamination and abuse of water sources can be replaced with environmentally friendly practices which allow more people to have access to greater quantities of freshwater. Communities can be trained to be self-sufficient and less reliant on outside help. This independence demands that a community is able to work with local and national governments to establish a system of regulated independence [6].

Many health and efficiency problems can be directly addressed by education. Approximately 40 percent of people living in developing countries have no knowledge of water-borne disease, apart from diarrhea and typhoids; education would promote safer water consumption choices, such as investing in sewage water treatment and learning to differentiate potable water sources from nonpotable water sources [11]. For households struggling to obtain water for drinking, cleaning, maintaining crops, and disposing of wastes, water recycling can greatly reduce demand. 65 percent of water that has been used for one purpose, such as washing hands, is safe enough to be captured and reused for another purpose, such as toilets or watering crops [12]. Proper knowledge of recycling means that the goal amount of 50 to 100 liters of water per day per person can be reached with only 30 to 60 liters. Training through education can also teach safe waste management processes, which has the potential to increase the quantity of potable (safe to drink) freshwater.

Unfortunately, widespread education is not a current reality in many areas within developing countries. In poor, water-scarce areas, many students are unable to complete their education because of the lack of water and toilets in schools. Diseases such as diarrhea are primarily transmitted in school and students are constantly exposed to high levels of coliform due to open defecation on the roads leading to school. Failing to offer potable water often causes many failures within the school; teachers who become ill due to water-borne disease have to cancel school and top students fall behind in academics when struck by preventable illness [13][14]. In order to promote education in areas suffering from water scarcity, a focus must be placed on ensuring all schools have access to potable water and proper sanitation.

Providing each school with a potable water source can play a major role in preventing students from dropping out. In Rwanda’s G. S. Murama school, the single running tap allows students to have access to water without fear of illness. At the end of the school day, students fill Jerry cans with water from this source for their families [16]. With 88 percent of diarrhea cases being caused by consuming nonpotable water and 50 percent of childhood cases being contracted at schools, the number of children dropping out of school because of illness would drop significantly with access to potable water [13]. Access to water would also encourage continued education; in the case of the G. S. Murama school, the families of students became reliant on the water the school provided. Continuing education not only opened a vast array of future possibilities to students, but it also granted their families a clean, reliable source of water.

Women’s Involvement

As the primary managers of family water supplies, women are in a unique role where they can directly influence their family’s water efficiency [15]. Despite their importance in water management, young girls in developing countries face more hardships than boys in receiving an education. Familial duties require girls as young as kindergarten age to spend up to six hours of each day fetching water. The lack of toilets at schools further hinders girls’ ability to learn by forcing them to drop out after beginning menstruation [14]. As the primary providers of water, girls’ education, particularly involving sustainable water practices, is extremely important. Because women take ownership over cleaning, cooking, collection, and waste disposal, the effects of education will be the most visible through women; women will be the ones to practice recycling, collect water from safe sources, manage wastes properly, and utilize efficient practices.

Women’s education has proven itself important in past legislation, where legal codes determined by men failed to recognize many essential elements of home life. In a small Mexican village, the all-male city water committee passed a regulation deeming that every other house must have a tap with running water. While this regulation addressed the issue of thirst and handwashing faced by the men, it failed to recognize the tasks of washing clothes, dishes, small children, and food, each of which demanded a washbasin. In response to the men’s decision, the women of the community spoke up in favor of putting women on the community’s water committee. Following the introduction of several female members, washbasins were distributed one to every six houses [7].

By granting women the education and voice needed to influence their communities, solutions have been better able to address all critical roles. The widened perspective in the previous case allowed an issue unseen by men to be quickly resolved by the intelligent, involved women of the community. Unfortunately, in many developing countries, women do not have the ability to contribute this time to local politics. Particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, women spend more time collecting water than they spend for any other task. They are taken out of school at a young age and kept away from local politics because of the extreme demands of their role in the family. In order to get women involved in local politics and to help them receive an education regarding how they can make a difference, a focus needs to be given to reducing their water collection duties [16].

Ensuring access to potable water at all schools serves as a powerful means of reducing women and children’s water collection duties. Families who live close to school would no longer have to travel as far for water. Children could satisfy their water collection duties without dropping out of school. The amount of water a woman needed to collect would be significantly reduced because her children could contribute to the family’s daily water supply simply by returning from school.


Regardless of whether or not a school has access to potable water, a curriculum surrounding  sustainable water practices should be established. Students should be taught the effects their behaviors have on local watersheds, the environmental and health risks due to abusing water sources, and how they can help. A focus should be given to teaching students that they can have a huge impact on the availability of clean water. Changes to daily routines, such as regularly cleaning rain barrels, understanding the minimum amount of water needed for certain tasks and turning waste into biofuels, should be emphasized. Political activity should be encouraged by praising cases such as Plachimada’s, where political activity saved a community. Praising and training students for active involvement in ensuring water security should be a major focus of school and a commitment to improving the quality of community water supply should be instilled in each student. This implementation strategy has proved itself effective in Singapore, where community education has decreased the per person per day demand of water by over 20 liters [5].

In order to assist every student in receiving this education, access to potable water at schools must increase. Approximately half of all schools in developing countries lack basic water facilities. With the cost of a new well averaging $7000, investing in wells for all schools is costly [18]. As high as this number appears, studies show that each $1 USD invested in improving health in a developing country brings the nation $3 to $34 USD in benefits [13]. Acquiring the funding to begin water infrastructure development projects is the biggest challenge of implementing these solutions. Sources of funding, including governments, humanitarian groups, and The World Bank, can be used to kick-start projects where communities cannot afford necessary developments.

With necessary funding, development should focus on the areas of greatest need. Schools with the most polluted water and those located the furthest from a freshwater source should be the first to have potable water projects implemented. Over time, water access should be extended until all schools have access to potable water and proper sanitation. The exact actions needed for each school will vary based on environmental, political, and economic factors: in areas with contaminated groundwater, expanding infrastructure would be a much more effective solution than building a well; in isolated areas, water purification would be needed, as expanding infrastructure would be an inefficient use of resources and risk high losses due to leaking. Numerous strategies for obtaining clean water can be found on the water access andsewage treatment pages. Each of the implemented solutions should be built to last. Many of the countries in need of these solutions has either or both of physical and economic water scarcity. Quality solutions which minimize water waste and future repair costs are in the best interest of communities which may not develop economies powerful enough to afford costly maintenance.

The development of water infrastructure should be accompanied with a training process which teaches members of the community proper upkeep and maintenance of water sources. Over time, piping can develop leaks which lose up to 60 percent of the water carried [19]. Training local people as mechanics serves an effective solution to the issues such as these and frees communities from dependence on aid from humanitarian groups or trained mechanics from more distant regions [16]. This training not only makes investments in infrastructure durable but it creates new economic opportunities. Local mechanics minimize the costs a community incurs for water source repairs and, if trained flexibly, create job opportunities for working with additional technologies. For this to training to occur, government subsidies will have to exist for educating people for critical positions, such as mechanics, doctors and teachers, who will return to work in their community. In the past, groups such as CharityWater have funded the education of mechanics or invested in local businesses which maintain community wells [16]. Mass education of community mechanics will be a costly investment; many developing countries have very few universities, and each of the few is extremely selective and expensive. In 1987, Uganda had only one university, in contrast with its nearly 30 universities today [20]. This growth has the potential to significantly expand the number of opportunities for people to receive training as mechanics. Government and humanitarian group funding the immense price of education, and incentives, such as subsidies, for skilled mechanics to invest their time in students and apprentices can make education a reality for many people [20].

Investing in maintenance for water infrastructure is critical to both the success of added technologies and the wellbeing of the people. Following the failure of a well in Luido, Mozambique, the local community went without repairs for over a week due to the lack of a skilled repairman. As a result, a child ill with diarrhea soon died due to dehydration [7]. Transitioning immediately back into a state of water scarcity is a common phenomena in developing countries, where stories such as this occur frequently. For this reason, training mechanics is a critical part of maintaining water security for a community.  By having a select group of professionals in even the poorest of communities, technological investments in the community, such as wells, piping, and purification facilities can have their lifetimes significantly extended.


Improving water access at schools serves to promote continued education, reduce illness, create awareness of sustainable water practices, and open communication and involvement. It frees many from the daily chores of water collection, wards off diseases associated with consuming contaminated water, and jumpstarts education. Water management education will allow women to make significant advancements in sustainable water management practices and will build a foundation for a future of well educated, involved leaders. Ultimately, students affected by this extension of water availability will serve as the powerful front of an increasingly developed country.


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