Oil and Water Do Mix When it Comes to Saving Lives

Water equals life. It’s really that simple.

Yet according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, 768 million people in the world lack access to an improved source of clean drinking water. That’s roughly one in ten of the entire world population.

This tragedy is no more evident than in sub-Saharan Africa. There, more than eight of every ten homes don’t have running water. As a result, women and children often spend many hours each day hauling heavy containers from distant and sometimes suspect water sources.

But there has been progress in recent decades. The Water Project, for example, has been helping struggling communities in this parched region of the world gain greater access to safe water and proper sanitation for more than seven years.

And this year, the 2014 Best Practices for Oil & Gas Conference will join the fight.

Joining Forces for a Critical Cause

Oil and water? “It’s not as an unlikely a mix as you might think,” says Isabella Groegor-Cechowicz, Global Vice President of Oil and Gas Business Unit at SAP. “Managing the water brought to the surface during oil and gas operations has always been part of our industry. And these days there’s even a stronger focus on issues around water quality, conservation, and reuse.”

Through Wells for Water, the Best Practices for Oil & Gas Conference will start raising and donating funds to directly support the important work of The Water Project. This funding will help African communities dig wells, construct small sand dams, protect fresh-water springs, and learn more about proper sanitation and hygiene practices.

Improving Lives One Well at a Time

The impact of these projects is enormous – especially when existing water sources are miles away or full of water-borne disease that can make families sick.

Working locally, small drilling rigs can often reach life-saving water only 150 to 200 feet underground. Once sealed with steel casings and concrete – and equipped with a simple hand pump – the water in these new wells stays clean and can be consumed without any treatment.

In other geographies, like Central Kenya, wells might need to go down more than 900 feet to find suitable water. In these conditions, a specially trained crew and a much larger drill rig are required. These projects also demand diesel generators, large electric pumps, storage tanks, and associated piping to make the water accessible.

These deep wells cost up to US$30,000 a piece, but such larger systems can serve more than 3,000 people.

Access to clean, local water does save lives. A study by Stanford University analyzed data from 26 sub-Saharan countries and found a fascinating correlation. Cutting the walking time to a water source by just 15 minutes reduced under-five mortality of children by 11% and slashed the prevalence of nutrition-depleting diarrhea by 41%.

Let’s Not Wait for Peak Water

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of clean water, and many experts see a growing global crisis. Author and environmental analyst Lester R. Brown has written that, “peak oil has generated headlines in recent years, but the real threat to our future is peak water.”

But access to clean water is already a problem for millions around the globe. “In developing countries, about 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions,” notes Steve Morris, Managing Partner of The Eventful Group, citing statistics from The Water Project website. “That’s just unacceptable. By supporting causes like Wells for Water and The Water Project, we know the world can do better.”

Please join me at the 2014 Best Practices for Oil & Gas Conference in Houston, and follow me on Twitter@JohnGWard3.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

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