World Water Day 2013: Cooperation

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Every year, World Water Day is held on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

World Water Day annually highlights a specific aspect of freshwater, this year being the UN International Year of Water Cooperation. It is important to recognise that cooperation is essential to strike a balance between the different needs and priorities and share this precious resource equitably, using water as an instrument of peace.

As part of ShelterBox's response to Cyclone Haruna in Madagascar, the disaster relief charity has partnered with Blue Ventures, a charity and social enterprise that works with some of the word's poorest coastal communities to conserve threatened marine environments, both protecting biodiversity and alleviating poverty, to bring clean water to the disaster-affected communities.

'The areas where we have been distributing emergency shelter to cyclone survivors have a good water source so the water filters in the ShelterBoxes have not been needed,' said ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member Peter Pearce (AU). 'However, we heard that there were other villages that have been struggling to access clean water with contaminated water sources. So we got in touch with Blue Ventures, who has had a permanent base here since 2003.'


A Family LifeStraw goes into every ShelterBox packed at the charity's headquarters in Cornwall, UK. Each one filters up to ten litres of water per hour and has a lifespan of around 18,000 litres.

'ShelterBox has provided us with 200 Family LifeStraws to be distributed in the isolated commune of Befandefa, some 200 kilometres north of Toliara, right where Cyclone Haruna hit on 22 February,' added Laura Robson, Blue Ventures Community Health Programme Coordinator.

'We have an ongoing health programme here. Communities are struggling to access clean water following the cyclone, as wells have been contaminated by runoff mixed with rubbish and human waste. A significant proportion of the population is consequently suffering from diarrhoea, with children aged under five years being particularly vulnerable, and we are urgently trying to secure their access to safe drinking water.

'Filtering stations'

'We are therefore delighted to have received these Family LifeStraws from ShelterBox and are currently working to set up filtering stations at contaminated water points throughout the commune of Befandefa, with multiple Family LifeStraws at each location that can be used by community members, supervised by designated people who will be trained in their use and responsible for storing them at night.'

'Cooperating with Blue Ventures is enabling both organisations to help improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities for the most vulnerable disaster-affected families,' commented SRT member Anthony Keating (AU). 'By working together, we will be able to reach 20 villages in the next two weeks, helping communities with WASH education and filter care.'

Caroline Savitzky is another Blue Ventures Health Programme Coordinator in Madagascar:

'We have trained community-based supervisors who are helping our staff in the water filter distributions and understanding how to train people in each village to be responsible for each LifeStraw.'

'These LifeStraws are going to make a huge difference to families affected by Haruna by ensuring that they have access to safe drinking water, even where they are using extremely contaminated traditional open water sources,' added Laura.

'Improve their health'

'The LifeStraws will protect and improve their health, thereby supporting them to engage in important activities such as rebuilding their homes and resuming with their livelihoods following the cyclone.'

The first World Water Day was in 1993. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly designated the date after it was recommended to celebrate an international day of freshwater at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).