Every year since 1993, on March 22 the United Nations has observed World Water Day. The day “celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2 billion people currently living without access to safe water.”

This year was no different. Stakeholders wrote articles, held events, and gave speeches about the importance of water and its lack of access for many in our world.

Progress however, towards the goal of making water available to the more than two billion people who lack access, has been painfully slow despite the fact that studies show a return of $5 to $46 for every dollar spent on clean water intervention.

One of the major reasons for this slow progress is that water–or the provision of water–is often seen as the solution to water problems. But that’s not the case.

My experience is far from unique; non-government organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders have spent more than hundreds of millions of dollars on water supply projects in Africa and other regions that have broken down and no longer work. It’s hard to calculate the actual figure but the fact that more than two billion people today still lack access to water implies that much of the water intervention programs–like mine and those in the report–ultimately fail.

Although building a water well–or simply providing water–in a community that lacks water makes sense on paper, in reality it is more difficult to implement. Understanding how push and pull strategies differ provides a clue as to why this happens and how to solve the water problem once and for all.

Push strategies are often driven by the priorities of their originators, typically experts in a particular field of development, and generate solutions that are recommended to communities that lack access to a particular resource such as water, schools, hospitals, etc. It is important to note that many of the resources being pushed are good things and they are often welcome by people in these communities.

The pull strategy offers a better approach.

Pull strategies are originated by people on the ground–often innovators–who are responding to the struggles of everyday people experiencing specific struggles. As the people on the ground design and develop their solutions, they pull in the appropriate resources necessary to make the solutions sustainable.

Read the full article about meaningful water efforts by Efosa Ojomo at Christensen Institute.