(Kansas City, Mo.) – In Kansas City, most people probably take for granted how the toilet works, or even that they access to a toilet. But, 2.5 billion people in the world don’t have access to adequate sanitation, and 315,000 children die every year from illnesses related to poor sanitation and unsafe water. That’s the reason for World Toilet Day. It’s an international effort to ensure everyone has access to toilets by the year 2030.
KC Water Engineering Technician Stephen Collins and retired KC Water Deputy Director Jim Mellem saw those conditions on trips to Bolivia and the Dominican Republic with the group “Engineers Without Borders.”
“Having to live without running water in your house or having a toilet in your house, having to go somewhere to draw water or maybe go out into a field to use a restroom, or a chamber pot, those are things we’ve not seen in our culture for a long, long time and there people that live this way day in and day out,” said Mellem.
As recent as a few years ago the community they visited in Bolivia didn’t even have outhouses. Now, they have access to more than two dozen, and it makes a difference for everyone.
“They came back and told us that the number of children that got sick was reduced so the number of days they missed school was reduced. The community was very enthusiastic about that,” said Mellem.
Here in Kansas City, KC Water maintains 2,800 miles of sewer main. Every year KC Water works to rehabilitate one percent, or 28 miles, of that system. Those underground pipes take dirty water from your home, through the treatment process, and back to the Missouri River, cleaner than when it was taken out. “There’s a very dedicated staff in maintaining that system and making sure that it operates on a continuous, regular basis for the citizens of Kansas City,” explained Mellem.
Back in Bolivia, the projects are smaller, but not without their own challenges. Collins remembers a villager’s journey just to get a few parts for a sanitation project. “The nearest hardware store was probably a two hour ride on public transportation. When he got there it was either closed or they didn’t have it so he had to continue on another two hours to the capitol. By the time he made the purchase it was too late to take public transportation back so he had to spend the night. So, this took about 24 hours of traveling just to get some PVC fittings.”
Collins and Mellem will return to Bolivia and finish a project that provides irrigation to the fields and build outhouses for villagers farther up in the mountains.
Here in Kansas City, KC Water will continue to rehab, repair, and install sewer lines to provide reliable wastewater services to customers.
“After seeing firsthand what it’s like not to have running water and not to have bathrooms I really have a great appreciation for the conveniences we have in our country,” said Collins.
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KC Water maintains and operates water treatment and distribution systems, stormwater management systems, and wastewater collection and treatment systems for residential and business customers in Kansas City and for wholesale customers in the Kansas City area. KC Water is primarily funded by fees charged to customers based on their use or impacts on the three utility systems.