David Dornsife recalls the first time he took his wife, Dana, to see the work they were funding to provide water to people in Africa, traveling to a village with no wells in Ghana in 2001. “People had scabies all over their faces,” he says. “It was hard to talk with them because there were flies everywhere.”
The average life span, they learned, was 46 years; 40% of the village was going blind from a bacterial infection called trachoma; and nearly 10% had contracted a debilitating parasite called guinea worm, which lives in dirty water. Even for the relatively healthy, water dominated their lives. Women and children spent up to seven hours a day fetching and ferrying it in 40-pound jerry cans balanced on their heads. And this village was nothing special: Some 385 million rural Africans lack access to clean water. Around the world nearly 1,000 children under age 5 die every day as a result of diarrhea caused by contaminated water or poor sanitation.