Posted by: davidjolson | 03/23/2011

328 million Africans without safe water, but hope survives

This guest blog was written by Jena Nardella, co-founder and executive director of Blood:Water Mission.

Blood:Water Mission, the organization I co-founded, has been working in dozens of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including a Kenyan region overlooked by governments, charities and markets. This region, the Marsabit district in the northern part of the country, sits close to the border of Ethiopia. It is a landscape that is difficult to explain because of its extremes. It’s not just hot, it’s oppressively hot. It’s not just dry, it’s earth crumbling dry. It’s not just poor, it’s extremely poor.

Our work in Marsabit has been a labor of love, choosing to come to know and partner wit thirty communities across the region. For the last three years, the schools in these communities have been trying to bring water systems to their schools. Parents, teachers and students have gathered to learn about hygiene practices, keeping water sources clean and proper water maintenance.

The funding from the projects has come from diverse sources in the US — musicians and their fans, 20 cyclists who rode their bikes across the US to raise money, a Knoxville, Tennessee community that came together to generously give towards a place they had never heard of and thousands of others who gave little by little to make these projects a reality. As a result, Marsabit’s communities have rain water catchment tanks at schools, oasis restoration projects and a few boreholes in areas where drilling was actually possible. However, that provision is not always guaranteed, as Marsabit is experiencing severe drought in part to climate change, creating need that exceeds our work’s capacity.

As Americans, we are indoctrinated with a can-do attitude about almost anything. But there comes a point where human capability meets its threshold and you get a glimpse of the real truth about what we can and cannot do. We can raise all the money we need, mobilize the communities with excellent methods, train in best practices of hygiene, build solid latrines and construct fool-proof rain tanks.

But we cannot make the rain come.  We just can’t.

There is no environmental mercy in a place like Marsabit. It’s a place that will make you question many truths you thought you understood about the world. Things like the eventual pay-off of hard work. Or the validity of a bootstraps doctrine. Or the presence of a merciful God. Or the sensibility of hope.

Yesterday was World Water Day. It was a sobering reminder that there are currently over 900 million people in the world that don’t have access to safe water. Over 328 million of them are African. Millions that walk hours a day are only bringing home dirty water — to drink, cook and clean with. There are many communities we work alongside that are still waiting for clean water access and hygiene and sanitation training to bring about a change in their lives.

Yet, this is not a story of hopelessness. To us, there are people behind these statistics — communities in Africa that have experienced what it means to no longer worry about easily preventable diseases. Children who no longer have to sacrifice their education to walk for water. Each time I’m in Africa with friends and partners is a stark reminder that the presence of safe water brings life and health and progress. We must continue to see this as a story in which we are all implicated and an opportunity to be engaged even when it doesn’t come easy.

The world’s water crisis is greater than one day’s worth of conversation, but your partnership allows us to carry on the discussion throughout the year. As we are reminded that clean water is all around us at the twist of a handle, let us be thankful for that access. And let us be reminded of those that engage daily in a struggle for life. If you are so moved, consider what opportunities you might have to enable someone else to access clean water.

At Blood:Water we empower people with the knowledge that “one dollar provides clean water for one African for one year.” This fact offers hope – hope that the present reality of the water crisis does not have to remain this way. It can be addressed, starting with me, starting with you. We invite you to join with us on this journey.

Find out more about ways to join in our work at


  1. I highly appreciate this blog. We have to make people aware of what is going on in the world. People have to know the poverty and we have to encourage them to help and maybe to donate for the poor people for example in Africa. Thank you for providing valuable content that hopefully helps people who need help.

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