Downstream impacts: How local access to clean water is improving the lives of women and girls

Operation Eyesight has been partnering with communities, empowering leaders and bringing life-changing eye health care to people who need it most, for nearly six decades. In Zambia and other areas with shortages of water and crowded living conditions, trachoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness.

This bacterial infection spreads easily through contact with eye discharge from infected people on hands and clothing, and through direct transmission by flies. Without antibiotic treatment, trachoma causes painful scarring to the cornea, eventually leading to irreversible blindness.

Operation Eyesight’s Zambian team rehabilitated a borehole located in the village of Kwanga, in Southern Zambia, in 2021. This rehabilitation has meant local access to an abundance of fresh water for the entire community. It’s one of 96 already drilled but non-functioning boreholes that the organization has rehabilitated in the past three years, along with the 106 boreholes drilled in Zambia’s Sinazongwe district, located in the country’s arid south.  

This has helped eliminate trachoma from this district. Access to clean water has also brought a host of benefits across communities, including improved health outcomes, thriving local economies and increased opportunities for women and girls.   

Access to clean water doesn’t just help reduce the spread of infection – it transforms entire communities. With less time spent hauling water long distances, locally-available water gives students like Natasha, pictured here with her brother, the opportunity to attend school.

“When people have access to fresh water, they can wash their hands, faces and clothing and prevent the spread of trachoma and other infections,” explains Paul Kulya, Program Manager for Operation Eyesight Zambia. “We also see that access to water has a significant impact on those responsible for drawing water –  who are disproportionately women and children.”

Kulya, who has been working alongside communities in Zambia for four years, says his team has found that bringing water closer to where people live also improves school attendance. 

“Where we are working, we actually have more girls in school than boys,” he says. “Local access to clean water gives them a chance to get an education.”   

Building on this success, Operation Eyesight teams in Zambia drilled five new boreholes and rehabilitated 51 more in communities in the country’s Central province in 2021. 

Now that the borehole in Natasha’s village is functioning again, Natasha and several other girls in her class no longer have to haul water, and they are back attending school full-time. 

Thanks to our donors and partnership with local Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) committees that are trained to maintain boreholes and ensure their longevity, it’s a downstream impact that’s being felt in other communities across Zambia.


March 22, 2022