WaterAid asked multi-generational families around the world to have their photo taken with the things that show progress in their lives.
And from the UK to Malawi, the US to Nepal, the one thing that unites them? The clean running water and safe toilets they all now have access to.
For the first time in history, 9 in 10 people have access to clean water, and 2.1 billion have their own proper toilet — the milestones that make way for change in other aspects of our lives.
So from laptops and TVs to a simple pair of pyjamas, find out just how much has changed for these families through the generations.
“We’d carry [the water] back in buckets and containers” — Nigel, 67, UK
When Nigel (pictured above with his family) was a child, UK households were under rations and it was common not to have your own bathroom.
“My first memory [of using water] is in a caravan. We had to get water from a stand pipe. We’d carry it back in buckets and containers. We didn’t have hot water and we had no bathroom, just strip washes.”
Today, he lives with his daughter and her family in an eco-community in Wales.
“Sanitation has got better since I was a child … now my daughter and grandchildren use a compost toilet … It makes sense as it’s not using water and it’s compost for the fruit trees.”
“Hearing my grandmother talk, I feel very lucky” — Salina, 21, Nepal
In Lele, Nepal, 72-year-old Batuli used to wake up at 3am to collect water. There was no toilet either, so the street became the only option.
“There used to be faeces everywhere, people defecating on the roadside was common. Diarrhoea was a very big problem during those days, and there were many cases of malnutrition.”
For Batuli’s grandchildren, the world she describes is unimaginable. While grandson Arun holds his laptop — a symbol of technological progress — close to him, his sister Salina, 21, reflects on the changes that have taken place:
“Hearing my grandmother talk, I feel very lucky. I never had to struggle for water in my life. The tap-stand was at our home and we had water all the time. We also have a toilet at home.”
Two thirds of the world’s population now have a safe, private toilet, but even in the UK, it’s something that many still don’t take for granted…
“I usually waited until the last moment to go” — Josephine, 76, UK
Josephine, 76, lives in West Sussex with her husband Arthur.
“We had a ‘lean-to’ cistern toilet outside. My dad said an indoor toilet wasn’t healthy because the smells weren’t sanitary.
“Going outside to the toilet was never pleasant, especially for a young girl… In spring, autumn and winter it was often very cold, and I usually waited until the last moment to go. To make matters worse, it was wartime and air raids were an added complication — there was only a bucket in the air raid shelter.”
Josephine, husband Arthur and granddaughter Lizzie chose to pose in the garden of their home that they all love — a space that now has no need to feature a toilet.
“I greatly appreciate the fact that I now enjoy light and warmth in the bathroom, and I do not have to put on winter clothing to go to the toilet.”
“I can buy a couch, a better bed, nicer clothes and maybe pyjamas” — Gezu, 57, Ethiopia
“You cannot compare the time I grew up with when I raised my children, let alone my grandchildren.”
Gezu is a hardworking father of 17, living in Ethiopia. With access to clean, safe water, Gezu’s family no longer suffer from constant illnesses like diarrhoea. He can now spend the money he saves on medication on things that make their lives better.
“There was a time when I had to sell my cow and sheep to buy medicine because three of my children fell sick one after the other… Now, I can use the money to buy stationery for my children. And because most of them are grown up and leaving home, I can buy a couch, a better bed, nicer clothes and maybe pyjamas.”
“We are the happiest people in Malawi” — Rafiq, 26, Malawi
Knowing the difference that clean water could make to their lives, Rafiq’s family in Malawi built their own well in 2015. Rafiq’s childhood was full of illness, which meant he couldn’t attend school as much as he wanted to. But with the new well, life improved greatly:
“My wife would bake doughnuts, which brought in more money. And when our daughter, Fortune, stopped suffering from diarrhoea her school studies improved.”
Rafiq was able to open a barbershop and invest in a motorbike. This winter, donations to WaterAid funded a borehole in Rafiq’s village, providing the whole community with clean, safe water and brand new health and opportunities.
“We are the happiest people in Malawi. Having clean drinking water feels like heaven on earth. Women are able to wash clothes frequently, and we are free from diseases and diarrhoea.”
“Running water in our village is the greatest thing I have ever seen” — Elysée, 35, Madagascar
Growing up in Madagascar, Elysée, 35, and her daughters chose to pose with their radio — something that almost every household in their village now has — and a new, large mirror, which replaced the pieces of broken glass they used to use.
Elysée remembers the days of handwritten messages that took weeks to reach the recipient. “Now, girls and boys are just sending text messages with mobile phones.”
But, she says, the most important thing in their portrait, is the water tap.
“Amidst all this progress, having running water in our village is the greatest thing I have ever seen in my whole life. Life is so easy for girls and the whole village now, because they don’t have to deal with water issues.”
“I remember melting snow, and getting water from dirt ponds” — Sarah, 68, USA
Sarah Begay’s grandchildren have only known life with running water, but this can’t be taken for granted in the Navajo Nation where they live.
More than a million Americans still don’t have access to clean, running water or basic toilet facilities. Many of these are among indigenous communities.
Sarah says, “I remember melting snow and getting water from dirt ponds. We had to filter the pond water before we could use it for cooking or washing because we didn’t want to drink it and get sick from all the bugs.”
Now, she’s a tireless campaigner for water and sanitation rights of the Navajo.
“When a family gets water or electricity — something that makes life easy for them — I’m overwhelmed. I’m grateful for them. That’s what keeps me going.”
“I finally got a house of my own” — Shafique, 31, Pakistan
In the slums on the outskirts of Islamabad where Shafique grew up, everyone went to the toilet in the open. School wasn’t much better. With only four toilets shared between more than 400 pupils, Shafique would wait until he got home.
“There was no concept of toilets in the slums at that time… It made me ill, because it affected my stomach. And I also suffered from typhoid.”
Shafique’s biggest symbol of progress to date is his home.
“When my health started getting better, I worked hard to earn and finally got a house of my own. We have a deep borehole in our house and the water is clean… There are nine people in my house now, and we have four washrooms.”
“Our village is now modern” — Musingo, 60, Uganda
Musingo remembers the ’90s vividly; that’s when safe water arrived in his village, bringing huge change for the whole community:
“Many people worked for free because they wanted safe water… I was made Secretary for Mobilisation [of the water scheme] and was involved in laying its pipes…I was then elected the Second Secretary and, after that, the General Secretary.”
Further down the line, Musingo’s family have even more to be proud of:
“In 2014, I got electricity in my house and also bought my television and music set. Our village is now modern. I have two cows. At home we drink milk and have enough food to eat and coffee to sell for an income.”
Progress is still happening. This year 78 million people turned on a tap for the first time, and 69 million got their own toilet. Learn more about the progress we’re making together at www.wateraid.org/uk/madeof >