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Aid workers reveal: Why safe water is hard to provide

For most of us, access to water is as simple as turning on a tap or opening a bottle. But for Red Cross water and sanitation workers Bob Handby and Stuart Bryan, the challenge lies in providing water to communities where things aren't so simple.

Monday March 30, 2015

Photo: Australian Red Cross
Stuart Bryan and Bob Handby answer questions about their work. Photo: Australian Red Cross

Speaking to Red Cross supporters at Melbourne's  Wheeler Centre on 26 March, aid workers Bob and Stuart shared some of the logistics - and obstacles - associated with bringing water supplies to inaccessible locations.

In his work with Timor-Leste Red Cross, Stuart explained that roads had to be dug to transport materials before water facilities could be set up in the country's rural villages.

For Bob, the challenge was creating an efficient water supply system for an Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone, all the while witnessing first-hand the unprecedented toll Ebola was taking on the local population.

"Water and sanitation in an Ebola treatment centre is absolutely essential," he recalled, explaining how chlorine rinses and hand-washing stations helped protect health workers from the virus as they changed out of their protective clothing.

The water Bob helped supply to the centre became symbolic of many people prevailing against Ebola - when patients received a clean bill of health, they went through one last shower that became known as the 'Happy Shower' before being discharged.

Stuart also noted the connection between clean water and improved health. "The beauty about getting water to your village is that it opens up more options for good hygiene behaviours and sanitation practices," he said.

When Red Cross provides safe water in Timor-Leste, it also helps families build household toilets and trains parents and children in practices such as washing hands regularly with soap. This greatly reduces the rate of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera.

In a country where the average water system fails within 12 months of installation, Stuart says that Red Cross projects are known for their sustainability. "Timor-Leste Red Cross has a great reputation in Timor-Leste and within the Red Cross Movement in regard to water and sanitation."

Bob shared this view. "I think we should be proud of the work we're able to do internationally and the calibre of the people that we're able to send into the field."

Read more about Bob's work at an Ebola treatment centre.

Read more about Stuart's work in Timor-Leste.

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