Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “Water, water every where, nor any drop to drink.” The well-known quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner exemplifies the situation more than 800 million people in the world face daily: no access to potable water. Potable water is of sufficiently high quality that it can be consumed or used without risk of immediate or long-term harm.
Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Larraine Lauter has seen the lack of potable water first hand, as well as the havoc unclean water can wreak on a human body. In conjunction with her responsibilities in Hispanic Ministries at the Church of the Epiphany in Louisville Ky., she has traveled to Honduras a number of times on mission trips. Appalled at the lack of safe drinking water, she set out to do something about it. Through trial, error and experimentation, Sister Larraine and a group of women in the parish of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, found a simple, cost effective way to provide safe drinking water for their families and others. She later established the Living Water Women’s Ministry in Tegucigalpa.
Sister Larraine brought her experiences and a demonstration of the Sawyer point-ONE water filter system to about 3 dozen people at the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging in Kansas City, Kan., on March 22, World Water Day. The presentation, “Agua con Bendiciones,” Water with Blessings, was hosted by CFCA and Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan diaconate candidate Jim McConnell, and co-sponsored by the diocesan Office of Human Rights and the Social Justice Office of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Her words emphasized by photos and text on a PowerPoint presentation, Sister Larraine spoke of the problems of access to clean water for drinking, cooking, hygiene and cleaning that she and the women of Tegucigalpa are working to alleviate.
Today, about 1 in 8 people worldwide have no ready access to clean water, and twice that many, more than 2.5 billion people, don’t have access to a toilet.
More and more, attention is being paid to this problem. Water is a renewable resource, but it is also finite. While water covers more than 70 percent of the earth, Sister Larraine said, more than 97 percent of it is salt water. Only .01 percent of all the earth’s water is accessible for drinking, she said. Sister Larraine also said that more people in the world have cell phones than access to a toilet.
Finding and maintaining access to clean water is not a new problem. There are numerous biblical references to women carrying jars of water from the community well. Over the centuries, towns and villages sprang up where there was access to fresh water, usually near rivers, streams or springs.
The water didn’t always remain fresh. As recently as 100 years ago, major urban centers including New York, Paris and London were also centers of infectious diseases, most caused by water contaminated by human and industrial waste.
Sister Larraine cited several statistics compiled by Water.org, including a 2007 poll by the British Medical Journal that found that access to clean water and sanitation comprised the most important medical advancement since 1840. Also according to Water.org, in 2011, an American taking a 5-minute shower uses more water than a typical person living in a slum in a developing country uses in an entire day.
In developing countries, about 3.5 million people still die of water-related diseases each year; inaccessibility to clean drinking water is the primary cause. Sister Larraine and the women of Tegucigalpa use a water filter system based on technology developed for kidney dialysis. The pointONE device is attached to a clean plastic 5-gallon bucket, and the dirty water is filtered through. The filter’s technology uses tiny u-shaped tubes to remove bacteria and diseases caused by bacteria, including cholera, botulism (Clostridium Botulinium), Typhoid (Salmonella typhi), Amoebic dysentery, E. coli, Salmonella and Streptococcus. It also removes protozoans including Giardia and viruses including Hepatitis A and E, poliovirus, Reovirus, SARS (Corona virus) and others. With the water filter and the bucket, up to 500 gallons of clean water can be obtained each day.
Sister Larraine said the women are encouraged to decorate their plastic buckets, which are food grade ¾ “food grade plastic is thicker and provides a better seal of the filter system to the bucket, and the decorations precludes the issue of theft.” They also sign a contract which stipulates that the filter systems are controlled by the women; the filter is to remain intact; and control is given to the women in households who agree to share, not sell the clean water.
“Each woman and household with a filter system can provide clean water to 20 other households. The training is simple and easily replicated in both English and Spanish,” Sister Larraine said. And while the women are being trained, support teams provide childcare. Sister Larraine said that as of World Water Day, 450 systems had been installed in Tegucigalpa and other rural towns in Honduras.
The simple device and decorated 5-gallon plastic buckets are helping solve the clean water crisis in Latin American countries including Honduras and El Salvador, Haiti and countries in Asia, including Bangladesh. Sister Larraine said that a one-time donation of $50 can provide a family of four with clean water for a lifetime.
To learn more about Living Water Women’s Ministry or Water with Blessings, contact Jim McConnell, (816) 590-4752, or Father Pat Tobin (816) 720-5029. To make a $50 tax-free donation, make check payable to Water with Blessings, and send to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, 20 West 9th Street, Kansas City, MO 64105.