You cannot die of thirst in Kuwait. Whether you are on foot, or driving around, free drinking water is available in all neighborhoods of this desert country. The water fountains, knownlocally as 'sabeel' in Arabic, literally meaning 'road'.

Water is viewed as a gift here and many families will erect water fountains, sabeel, as memorials to deceased relatives. They are also often gifted as awqaf to provide free water to anyone who might need it. Providing water is a favorite act of charity for Muslims. Kuwait also spends a great deal of money digging drinking water wells in poor countries. Sabeels in Kuwait may also be funded by a private institution or with a donation from a cooperative society.

One of the most interesting aspects of sabeel are the variety of designs and structures. Some are encased in large sculptures or brickwork, others are simple fountains while others are built to resemble local or historical landmarks.

Most water fountain designs are associated with Kuwaiti heritage, such as lanterns, urns and architectural forms such as the old wooden houses of Kuwait or water towers, in addition to the dallah (Arabic coffee pot), which symbolizes hospitality. Passersby use these fountains to drink and fill small water containers for street cats, stray dogs and birds.

But some deface the fountains by pasting posters on them, as if they are complimentary advertising spaces!

The huge fountains in their varied shapes add an aesthetic touch to the streets. Not all public water fountains are embellished though - some merely have a fence to protect them from theft. But at the end, they all reflect the philanthropic spirit of the people of Kuwait.

By Athoob Alshuaibi