In the fall of 2000, I nominated Lifewater International for Foolanthropy. I was so compelled by this organization's mission and value that I gladly accepted the invitation to join its Board of Directors in 2001. I still serve as a Board member, and it is thus from an enthusiastically biased perspective that I again nominate Lifewater International for Foolanthropy 2004. Due in great part to many generous Fools who have contributed every year since 2000 (Thank you!), Lifewater has grown and continues to grow at an amazing rate. This nomination comes in two parts. For those with interest in more information and an update, please read the next post. THE PROBLEMUnsafe 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 (1.1 BILLION) on earth are without safe water, and more than twice that (2.4 BILLION) do not have adequate sanitation. A SOLUTIONLifewater has worked in the face of such overwhelming statistics for 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. Until four 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. Strategic growth since then has enabled Lifewater to focus on hygiene as well. 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 diseases by over 40%. Increased formal emphasis on sanitation stands on the horizon as Lifewater's next major focus.Lifewater continues to be a very Foolish investment! In 2000, I reported that a gift of $4 would provide one person safe water from a new well. This cost had been estimated several years earlier by Bill Ashe, Lifewater's Founder. He had simply computed the total funds historically received by Lifewater and divided this total by the number of Lifewater wells completed at the time, estimating that each well served an average of 350 people. This conservative but admittedly grassroots estimate was also influenced by the fact that the Founder, Bill Ashe, never took a salary and had provided rent-free space for Lifewater during its first 15 years. In short, this estimate was helpful for backward-looking summary, but less so for future estimation. With Lifewater's exponential growth over the past few years, however, forward-looking estimates are clearly appropriate. Currently, the estimated cost to provide one person with safe water from a new well is $18. This reflects a more comprehensive estimation of the costs, including amortization of drill rig expenses. It also includes administrative and project management costs, which reflect growth in organizational capacity over the past four years. Even with these changes, however, 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 provide safe clean water at a cost far below United Nations' estimate of over $50 per person.One of Lifewater's key attractions for Foolish venture philanthropists is its cost-effectiveness. I am convinced that Lifewater delivers an amazing return on investment. 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., $25 every month for one child over 12 years, or $3600). 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 $3600 (divided by $18) can literally mean the difference between life and death for 200 people. As entire communities are transformed, and skills (e.g., well repair, hygiene) 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.In closing, it is noteworthy that Lifewater provides 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 a more important physical human resource than water. Those who have antibiotics, electricity, and even computers are still at 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.] http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/en/rtw1.pdfA child dies every 15 seconds from diarrhea, largely due to unsafe sanitation and water. [World Health Organization (WHO). Box on Page 2.] http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/en/rtw1.pdfWhereas 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.] http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/en/rtw1.pdfApproximately 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.]http://www.who.int/docstore/water_sanitation_health/Globassessment/Global1.htm#Top 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.] http://www.who.int/docstore/water_sanitation_health/Globassessment/Global1.htm#Top 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 Nationsestimates 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.] http://lifewater.org/fact112.htm “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] http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2001/sgsm7808.doc.htm
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