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Calgary-based organization works to improve access to clean drinking water


The theme for the 2024 World Water Day is "Water for Peace," something that staff at the Calgary-based Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) take to heart.

CAWST works with partnering agencies all over the world to bring clean drinking water solutions to those without.

"World Water Day is a really important moment to stop and recognize the importance of water, how we need to treat water, how we as an entire globe or as communities need to protect the resources that we have," said Taryn Meyers, CAWST director of global water sanitation and hygiene services.

Meyers recently got back from a one-week trip to Ethiopia to work on a Government of Canada-funded multi-year project to get water into homes and schools in three different districts.

"Water is not necessarily easy to come by there," Meyers said.

"We're talking about either drilling down to get water or taking the surface water that is available and using very simple technologies to clean it at home. There's not a lot of centralized systems like we have here, so things are not coming out of pipes, through faucets…  so it takes a lot more effort and work for people to handle their water needs every day."

Meyers has made a handful of trips to the East African country.

She says people in Calgary, people don't think of water much because it's always there when a tap is turned on, but for many people around the world, it's top of mind.

"It's a pillar of your day in thinking about how you're going to have enough water to meet your basic needs," she said. "To drink, to cook, to wash your hands. Not everyone has that privilege – and it's not a privilege, it's a human right."

Meyers says it's a challenge to find a way to get water at Ethiopian schools, and CAWST and its partners are looking at building a cistern system to collect rain water.

"One of the big challenges we are facing in our conversations is the schools are so excited about doing proper water and sanitation and hygiene behaviors, hand washing and setting up latrines and helping girls deal with their menstrual hygiene at schools so they don't have to miss school and then the biggest challenge they have is there's literally no water on site," she said.

"Can you imagine sending your kids to school every day, and there's no water there?"

CAWST says there are close to two billion people around the world without access to safe water, and that severely impacts their ability to thrive.

A small donation here can go a long way on the other side of the world, CAWST says.

"For under $1, you can impact someone's life with better water sanitation and hygiene," she said. "Through our model of partnership and through the model of education, training and making water knowledge common knowledge around the world, so that people can activate themselves to get safe water."

Taryn Meyers shows Sara Jayne Kendall the collection of biosand filters at CAWST. Sarah Jayne Kendall is the director of community engagement for Water First. She's from the Alderville First Nations in southern Ontario and says the organization strives to work with Indigenous communities to address water challenges throughout Canada.

"As of October 2023, the stats show that 14 per cent of Indigenous communities across Canada are on some varying form of a drinking water advisory," she said.

"These range from short term to long term, 'do not consume' to 'do not use.' A quarter of the population does not have safe access to drinking water, so we really don't have to go that far to really understand that we are part of that global issue."

Kendall says the aim of Water First is to educate and train the Indigenous community so they can work towards solutions.

"Our goal is to inspire future water scientists, who do a lot of work around understanding what's in your water.

"We have partnered with over 80 Indigenous communities across the country with programs that are very specific to community needs, and then we also have our drinking water program, which is a 15-month internship, and through this we are helping support the growth of Indigenous-certified water operators."

Kendall says on World Water Day that she'd like to encourage people just think about their everyday use of water.

"The vast majority of us, myself included, don't really put a lot of thought into turning your tap on, don't really put a lot of thought into what that would equate to for a lot of our Indigenous communities, who are consistently living with the challenges of not having safe water for baby formula, not having safe water to cook with and not having safe water to bathe with." Top Stories

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