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Water Crisis: How WaterAid was born

I witnessed the birth of WaterAid. The date was 21 January 1981, the place was a conference hall in Central London, and the midwife was David Kinnersley, a civil servant.

lt was the start of the UN's specially designated International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade and David, who had been visiting a daughter in New York, had gone to some of the preparatory meetings for it there. Then Senior Economic Advisor to the National Water Council, which supervised the then publicly-owned water industry, he wondered what rich countries could do.

"It was obvious that developing countries should take the decade seriously" he says, "but I did not think that a country like Britain should just let it pass". He came back and arranged to hold a conference to decide on action: I played a small part in the preparations.

The conference got a huge response and the water industry set up WaterAid six months later, to the day, the first time an industry had done anything of the kind. Shortly afterwards it took the bold, and equally pioneering step of enclosing appeals for donations in the water bills sent out to homes. This still raises over pounds 800,000 a year, the third biggest component in WaterAid's pounds 6.6 million annual income; the other two are over pounds 1 million through water industry-related fundraising and over pounds 2.25 million from Governments and the EC.

So far nearly four and a half million people have benefited from long- term development projects WaterAid has funded, mainly in 11 countries in Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Another two and a half million will get safe water and sanitation from schemes in the proverbial pipeline. It concentrates, rightly, on low cost technologies that are easy to operate and maintain and is working with local organisations. The poor people who benefit from the schemes are closely involved in planning, building and managing them. In 1995 it won the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize.

Geoffrey Lean

For more information on WaterAid and the work it funds, please contact: Lee Derrick or Marcus Pugh at WaterAid, Prince Consort House, 27-29 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7UB Tel: 0171 793 4527 or fax: 0171 793 4545 WaterAid is also on the Web: http://www.oneworld.org/wateraid/