Meet ADRA’s Water Expert
Every month, ADRA hosts a Facebook Live to talk about our topic of the month and take questions from supporters about that, or whatever else is on your mind! For World Water Day this year, we welcomed Jason Brooks, ADRA’s Senior Advisor for Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (aka our very own water expert) We asked him all the questions that come up about the water crisis affecting so much of the world, how ADRA responds, and so much more.
If you missed the live Q&A, you can read some of the highlights of the chat below or watch the whole thing online anytime.
Why should everyone care about World Water Day and why is it so important?
World Water Day is a special one for a water, sanitation, and hygiene advisor but I think we all get excited here. The day has been around since 1993 and it’s just this annual event, every March 22nd, and we are encouraged to focus our attention on one of the most important resources we have as a human being and what that means for the people in the world that don’t have access to safe water.
Every year, World Water Day has a theme, and this year the theme is Valuing Water. Every year the goal is to draw attention to the global water crisis and I call it a global crisis not just because more than 2 billion people have never had access to safe water, but because there are many communities, cities, and even whole countries where water supply is running out. It is truly a global crisis and something worthy of our attention.
We certainly think about it here a lot at ADRA because we spend so much time working on issues of water supply, sanitation, and hygiene around the world but we want other people to get excited about it too.
Water projects are always popular with ADRA supporters. I’m sure they would want to know where these projects are. Where does ADRA have water projects?
They are literally too numerous to name them all, but I can tell you that in 2020 we had over 400 projects around the world in more than 40 countries! These projects include everything from smaller ones that serve one community with one water to supply to huge projects in the context of humanitarian disasters. Just to call one out, one of our largest is in Madagascar and it serves almost half a million people.
With the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, we’ve really had an increase in our projects that are related to water, sanitation, and hygiene because hand washing is the first line of defense against COVID-19 so we had a large expansion of projects. I can’t tell you how many lives were saved, but what I can tell you is that as water, sanitation, and hygiene projects reached almost 500 million people last year. It’s just amazing to be part of that global effort. I’m grateful for how interested our supporters are
in this type of work – everyone can relate and imagine how much more difficult their life would be if they didn’t have access to safe water.
Speaking of the projects that we have around the world, one of the questions that comes up frequently is about the sustainability of this work so that the families and communities can support themselves.
Can you talk about that with us? Is that a goal for ADRA’s water projects?
I am so glad that ADRA supporters have questions like this. It’s so important to be an informed supporter and to do the research and understand things. We love the fact that you trust ADRA, but I want to assure you that the reason ADRA can be trusted is that we’re thinking about questions like
And for those who may be asking, what is sustainability? It means that when we implement a project, we’re thinking about how that project will be able to continue without external support, how the improvements and the well-being of the participants are going to continue into the future managed by the efforts of the community with local resources that they have there.
It’s not an easy thing, I’ll be honest with you, when you’re working with people who are often in very resource-deprived situations. And then on top of that, there are so many things that can happen, like a cyclone that comes along and destroys water resources or the place where we work are subject to droughts and things of that nature. We work really hard from the conception of the project to design it in such a way that we take into account the needs and the input of the local community and also build up their capacity to manage the resources themselves. At the end of the day, we want our end users not to get water access one time or temporarily, but to have a resource that they can sustain so that it really supports the improved health and improved productivity that people need.
The amazing thing about water is that not only can the people listening to this today understand how essential it is to our lives, water is fundamental for human life and human productivity. There is an expression where I used to work in West Africa, and it existed in all the languages in that region, in many different words but all with the same meaning: “Water is life.” The idea is that where there is water, everything is possible, but where you don’t have water, or safe water, you really can’t sustain life and productivity and health. That means that when we’re designing a project, we have to take into consideration not just how it will be managed in the long term, but what kind of shocks and circumstances do we need to foresee to make sure that communities are prepared to support, maintain, and operate water systems because the worst case scenario is we come in and people see a temporary improvement in their situation and then somehow it breaks down or it doesn’t last and people are worse off than they were before. And no person of conscience would want to see that happen, but I’ll tell you, it is a challenge. What it requires is sound, long-term, local partnerships. It’s not something we do alone. We work with local communities, we work with the local government, we work with other humanitarian actors, it’s this huge team effort. Nothing good that we do at ADRA is done in isolation and it requires a huge team of people, most being our local workers. The vast majority of the people working for ADRA are working in the country where they are born and we are operating in. They know the language and the context, and we turn to these local experts and say “How can we work together with the community with the knowledge you have and the resources we bring to create something that will be contributing to people’s well-being for decades. And that’s so important.
We have had viewers send in questions and I want to address one of those that has come in. Someone asked if you have a favorite project during your time working for ADRA. Now, you’ve been at ADRA for quite some time, so is there a project that is memorable for you?
I’ve been with ADRA for almost 20 years. It started with my wife and I working together when we were mere children and I think the most memorable projects were the ones where you are able to go in and partner with the community in a situation that’s just so desperate, and to see how it transforms the lives of the people. I’m thinking back to our service in the country of Niger in West Africa. Niger is a country that is 80% Sahara Desert and obviously very drought-prone, very hot, very dry. I’ll just never forget being in this rural community, we’d taken a break from the midday sun, it was 120 degrees, and sitting on a straw mat underneath an acacia tree with the village chief. This very devout Muslim man, very respected elder gentlemen, says to me “We thank God for ADRA.” And I asked through my translator “Why?” His answer was “ADRA comes to the community and they talk to us about what it is that we need help with and how we can work together to accomplish it. It’s not like some others, there’s no agenda, you’re here because as fellow followers of God, you want to be a blessing. So we thank God for you.” There’s an expression that’s sometimes used in that culture – when people say something that you deeply agree with and it moves you, you say “Your mouth to God’s ear.” It’s a way of saying “Amen!”
That still moves me and motivates me today.