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Congratulations to all those at the Fool for 10 years of Foolanthropy! I remain confident that, no matter which organizations are selected, Foolanthropy will present the Foolish community with outstanding opportunities to invest in terrific organizations undertaking tremendous acts of service. I am also thankful for this free Discussion Board which provides a great networking resource and information about so many wonderful organizations. I encourage you to read ALL the nominations!

I continue serving as a Board member for Lifewater International, and it is from this enthusiastically biased perspective that I make my nomination. Lifewater has been a past Foolanthropy recipient, and this post is primarily based on those from previous years. However, it also incorporates substantial updates.


Unsafe water is deadly. Water-related diseases kill tens of thousands globally each day, but this impact is sometimes obscured. With the growing global AIDS crisis, for example, it is crucial to understand up to 90% of persons living with AIDS also suffer from diarrheal disease, which is caused and/or worsened by unsafe drinking water. Indeed, far more children die of diarrhea than from HIV/AIDS. More generally, many persons who die of “starvation” actually have some food resources, but they cannot benefit from food due to diarrhea and other water-caused illnesses, which result in dehydration and a failure to absorb food nutrients. In fact, a child dies every 15 seconds (almost 6,000 deaths daily) due to diseases related to unsafe water. As another example, whereas 308,000 people died from war in Africa in 1998, over 2 million (six times as many) died of diarrheal disease. The problem is staggering. Almost one sixth of the people on earth (1.1 BILLION) are without safe water, and more than twice that (over 2.6 BILLION) do not have adequate sanitation. Given that women and children are typically assigned the job of obtaining water, this issue also dramatically contributes to global gender inequities. Girls cannot be in school while they are spending the entire day fetching water.


Lifewater has worked in the face of such overwhelming statistics for over 25 years. It is an organization of Christians providing services to all peoples--regardless of creed--around the world. Indeed, the majority of Lifewater beneficiaries have been people of faiths other than Christianity. Lifewater International neither hides its faith affiliation nor imposes its faith views on those it serves. Rather, it seeks to demonstrate Christian values through service, without any religious obligation, to those in need around the world.

Recently, I traveled to Zambia, Africa, to survey the ongoing work of one of the Lifewater Partner groups and to participate in the 2006 Lifewater Africa Partners Conference. Persons from six African countries representing 12 Partner Groups attended this conference. Please visit for an account (with photos) of Lifewater's ongoing activities in Africa.

Until six years ago, Lifewater was focused primarily on safe water access (well-drilling, pump repair, etc), with significant but less formal emphasis on hygiene and sanitation. Water access still represents the majority of projects (60% in fiscal 2005-2006), but strategic growth since then has enabled Lifewater to focus more on hygiene (30% of fiscal 2005-2006 projects) ( A hygiene curriculum has been developed and is now becoming a standard component in Lifewater projects. Using the same “training trainers to train” model that has been so successful with water access and pump repair, Lifewater also teaches those within local communities to become hygiene trainers. These efforts can pay great dividends, given the amazing fact that simply washing hands with soap and water can reduce diarrheal disease by over 40% and prevent some common causes of blindness!

In the past two years, Lifewater's strategic growth has also enabled the launch of formal efforts regarding sanitation (4% of projects in fiscal 2005-2006). This new facet of our ongoing work assists “needy communities through education on disease transmission, latrine construction, repair and maintenance, and social attitudes and behaviors about proper waste disposal.” (

Together, the solutions offered by Lifewater regarding water, hygiene, and sanitation help address more issues than might be immediately apparent. A lack of water does more than make people thirsty! For example, unequal access to water can result in violence and abuse when those “upstream” can block those “downstream” from this life-giving resource. In contrast, providing universal access to these resources can reduce conflict. Moreover, adequate provision of water, hygiene, and sanitation can result in more education particularly for girls and women who otherwise would spend their days fetching water. These resources can also dramatically improve health, not only by reducing obvious waterborne disease, but also by enhancing immune function (e.g., for those fighting HIV/AIDS). Developmental approaches such as Lifewater's can also enhance local economies, by providing training and jobs and increasing microenterprise.


Lifewater's finances are published online, with every annual report available since the year 2000. In addition, given Lifewater's small size (with an annual budget that is still less than 2 million (million, not billion!), contributions indeed make a truly significant impact. For example, compared to some of the mammoth members of the Millennial Water Alliance, Lifewater is truly dwarfed; and yet its established reputation contributed to its becoming one of the founding members of this wonderful coalition of nonprofit organizations. Conversely, whereas Lifewater's budget is small, it continues on a significant growth track, with a 30% increase in revenues from fiscal 2004-05 to 2005-06 (see annual report). At the same time, Lifewater is committed to investing as much as possible in projects (74% in fiscal 2005-06) while being as frugal as possible with fundraising costs (less than 10% in fiscal 2005-06).

Lifewater continues to be a very Foolish investment! Currently, the estimated cost to provide one person with safe water from a new well is estimated at $18. This estimate includes amortization of drill rig expenses, as well as administrative and project management costs. By keeping its commitment to maintaining expenses at a minimum and volunteer contributions (and thus gifts-in-kind) at a maximum, Lifewater has been able to empower the provision of safe clean water by local partner groups while keeping the price tag incredibly low.

Indeed, one of Lifewater's key attractions for Foolish venture philanthropists is its cost-effectiveness. I am convinced that Lifewater delivers one of the most amazing returns on investment available today. Lifewater does not merely address quality of life. It addresses life itself! Whereas many organizations address important needs such as education, medicine, and housing, such organizations often require considerable ongoing costs (e.g., $35 every month for one child over 12 years, or $5040). In contrast, Lifewater investments can significantly benefit more people, because Lifewater focuses its efforts on the “extreme low end” of the quality of life “growth curve.” As such, the same $5040 (divided by $18) can literally mean the difference between life and death for 280 people. As entire communities are transformed, and skills (e.g., well repair, hygiene, sanitation) are passed on, these effects can dramatically multiply. Thus, Lifewater represents the growth potential of a “Rule Breaker,” but even “DRIP investors” can participate in significant ways for only $18.


Lifewater's primary activity is EDUCATING local Partners in impoverished (typically developing country) areas, training them how to run, maintain, and sustain their own organizations, which in turn, provide training to locals. As such, according to Executive Director Dan Stevens, “Lifewater trains trainers to train.” The participatory hygiene curriculum has become a powerful educating tool that has already impacted thousands of lives. By empowering people to optimize safe water, hygiene, and sanitation (ongoing gifts!), Lifewater ENRICHES by enabling a dramatic improvement in quality of life for entire communities. Regarding AMUSEMENT, as I said back in 2000 in my first nomination, there is nothing like the sound of laughter among adults enjoying the first water fight of their lives, using fresh water from a local pump instead of carrying polluted water over miles from the nearest drainage ditch.

In closing, it is noteworthy that Lifewater uses a holistic approach to human need, providing physical resources to all and spiritual resources to those who express interest. Regarding cost-effective return on investment, I challenge anyone to find a better value than Lifewater International! In fact, I challenge anyone to consider more important physical human resources than water, hygiene, and sanitation. Those who have antibiotics, electricity, and even computers are still at great risk of death without safe water. As Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General, has said, “We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation, and basic health care.”

References for the facts listed above appear in chronological order below.

Worldwide, up to 90% of people with HIV/AIDS also suffer from diarrheal disease, a condition worsened by unsafe drinking water. [Quantitative Microbrial Risk Assessment (1999) Charles N. Haas, Joan B. Rose, Charles P. Gerba; Wiley Publishers ISBN: 0-471-18397-0.]

Far more children in the world die of diarrheal disease than HIV/AIDS. [World Health Organization (WHO). Box on Page 2.]

A child dies every 15 seconds from diarrhea, largely due to unsafe sanitation and water. [World Health Organization (WHO). Box on Page 2.]

Whereas 308 000 people died from war in Africa in 1998, over 2 million (six times as many) died of diarrheal disease. [World Health Organization (WHO). Box on Page 2.]

Approximately 1.1 billion people do not have acceptable access to an adequate supply of safe drinking water. [World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and Water Supply and Sanitation. “Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report.” 2000. 28 Sep. 2001. Page 1.]

2.4 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, this is roughly two-fifths of the world's population. [World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and Water Supply and Sanitation. “Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report.” 2000. 28 Sep. 2001. Page 1.]

The simple act of washing hands with soap and water can reduce diarrheal diseases by over 40%. [BMJ, Curtis V., Cairncross S. “Effect of Washing Hands with Soap on Diarrhea Risk in the Community: A Systematic Review.” 2003.]

The Lifewater drinking water development program is cost effective. The United Nations
estimates the costs of a village water project at more than $50 per person. [World Health Organization (WHO). “Fact Sheet No. 112, Water and Sanitation.” Nov. 1996.]

“We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation, and basic health care.” [Kofi Annan- United Nations Secretary- General (2003-2004) speaking on World Water Day 2001]
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