In November 2020, Liberia became the first developing country to gain border-to-border basic access to clean water, as described by UN Sustainability Goal #6. How did this happen with such limited infrastructure to its communities? Let us set the stage…
No person forgotten.
When providing border-to-border clean water, one needs to know where every man, woman, and child lives. A government census is only so helpful, as even a government census will have holes in it. Working in partnership with The Last Well, Sawyer became the system architect for a country-wide assessment, which was the catalyst for reaching the whole country. Assessment teams were equipped with jungle bikes (nimble, motorized scooters) and tablet surveys, then methodically visited every village in Liberia. In just one county alone, the team found 1,300 villages that were not a part of the government census!
Assessment teams ventured deep into the Liberian Bush, a thick jungle teeming with wild animals, beautiful foliage, and bugs big enough they could seemingly carry one away. In these areas, occasional tight paths cut by humans, lined with razor grass, served as the only reminders assessment teams were not in untraveled terrain.
The assessment teams faced multiple challenges. On jungle bikes and well beyond any paved road, their journey frequently met the impasse of a river, an undrivable path, or a handmade bridge not suitable for driving. From here, teams parked the bikes and hiked up to 6 hours to reach the country’s most remote villages. It was often said these people groups would be impossible to reach, but with a team dedicated to the mission, the whole country was assessed within a 2-year period.
Equipping locals to reach the goal
After each county was assessed, a filter installation team followed. A milestone was passed in 2015 when the Sawyer team trained the first Liberian filter installation team of 30 people. From there, 3 of those trained became trainers. Training kept expanding until the full team included 150 Liberians. Village by village, the team installed filters throughout each county and tracked their progress along the way using GIS technology on tablets and smartphones (more on that here)
In 2015, we hit a breakthrough. The Southern Liberia county officials of Grand Kru issued a clean water border-to-border completion letter for the entire county! With one county down and 14 to go, the race was on to complete clean water for the whole nation by December 31st of 2020. The field teams were energized and even more committed to finishing the goal.
The challenge continues
There were plenty of obstacles along the way. Liberia’s rainy season can be relentless and brutal for travel. While most simply took those months off, our filter teams pressed on, showing a true testimony of human will. The teams often slept in the presence of wild animals. They rarely had flushing toilets or running water. They endured the baking tropical heat and combed every inhabited inch of Liberian soil. We believe they are true superheroes.
Challenges persisted socially, logistically, and even topographically. The bridges in remote Liberia, which could be quite fear-inducing, proved to be some of the most notable obstacles. Most of them are hand-made from tree trunks and stacked together in a makeshift way to provide ways of crossing rivers or canyons. Often the bridges were just wide enough for a vehicle to cross with zero room for error, proving these bridges are not for the faint of heart. Other suspended bridges allowed for those on foot to cross the banks of rivers. These resembled rustic ropes courses with neither harnesses nor modern engineering.
Most people said this effort was impossible. The teams from The Last Well and Sawyer proved otherwise. On November 12th, at 3 pm Liberian time, the last Liberia village received Sawyer filters, marking an end to the quest of border-to-border basic clean water access. This was the clean water equivalent to the first man walking on the moon. It had never been accomplished before, but now that it has, other countries will surely follow. Sawyer believes that with efforts like this, we’ll see clean water access for the world in our lifetime.
The filter teams and donors were actors on the stage of history. Sawyer invites you to opt-in and change the world with us.
Read more about the Liberia Project at sawyer.com/liberia.
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