TWENTY-FOUR HOURS WITHOUT WATER
We never know the worth of water till the well is dry. ~Thomas Fuller
This week I was reminded of this truism as the arctic air and frigid temperatures in Washington, DC caused some pipes at my home to burst. My plumber was 70 miles away dealing with another water issue and couldn’t come to my rescue until the next day, and so I was tasked with finding the cut off valves for the outdoor spigots in my old house. I’ve lived in my home for about a year without these problems and didn’t have a clue! As water spewed out of the outdoor pipes, causing frozen puddles in my neighbor’s garden, I searched desperately for the right cut off valve, without success, and finally had no choice but to cut off the main water access to the entire house. Thankfully I know where that cut off valve is!
But now with no water at all I had to figure out how to manage for 24 hours until the plumber could come and help. No shower, no flushing toilets, no water. Of course I had to improvise. And while I improvised, I reflected on how many people live each day without clean water. As I hurriedly filled the bath tub for a bath before cutting off all water to the house, then carried buckets of used bathwater to each bathroom for manual flushing, up and down three flights of stairs, I recalled the plight of girls in Africa who walk miles each day to fetch water, often risking their personal safety on very long walks, unable to attend school in order for their families to have modest amounts of water that is often contaminated. These 24 hours caused me to reflect deeply on the predicament of millions around the world without access to clean water and sanitation. My thoughts dwelled on children who suffer numerous health problems due to water shortages and dirty water, when they do find it.
Of course I don’t mean to compare my 24 hours of inconvenience to their situation. But it did cause me to recall the startling statistics and reality of the condition of millions who lack access to water and our relative use and waste of water, the ways in which we take for granted our abundant and cheap access to water. According to UNDP, an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day. The WHO has documented that more than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all these deaths, 99 percent, occur in the developing world. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours. Startling!
Of the 60 million people added to the world’s towns and cities every year, most move to informal settlements (i.e. slums) with no sanitation facilities.(UN Water)
Check out these statistics: 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people. The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. Over 2.5X more people lack water than live in the United States. More people have a mobile phone than a toilet.
Water is not only a major development and health challenge of our day, it is also a major environmental issue. Developed countries have essentially eradicated diseases such as cholera, typhoid and malaria, but in developing nations, these and other waterborne illnesses kill 5 million people each year — 6,000 children every day. And global warming is exacerbating this crisis as severe, prolonged droughts dry up water supplies in arid regions and heavy rains cause sewage overflows. In terms of the sheer number of people affected, the lack of access to safe water and basic sanitation is a massive problem.
People who fall ill from waterborne diseases can’t work. Women and girls who travel hours to fetch clean water for their families can’t go to school or hold on to a job. Without proper sanitation, human waste pollutes waterways and wildlife habitat. Global warming and population pressures are drying up water supplies and instigating conflict over scarce resources. Expanding access to clean water and sanitation will have ripple effects throughout local economies and societies.
Yet it is a problem with proven solutions.
Simple Solutions Can Make Water Safer: Simple sanitation improvements, like digging pit latrines and treating drinking water with chlorine, filters and other simple, existing technologies can save millions of lives. The challenge is to put the right strategies to use in the right places, as needs vary from country to country. Where no water supply exists or only polluted water is accessible in an area, the answer may be to dig water wells below surface pollution to access uncontaminated water supplies.
The problem with creating new water supplies in rural areas is not that we lack the technology to treat unsafe water or to drill water wells in remote locations. No, the real problem is that the organization and funding have been lacking to implement and sustain true state-of-the-art water supply equipment in remote locations.
So the next time you brush your teeth with your electric toothbrush, the water running for 2 minutes, or shower for 10 minutes (hey I’m not judging, I do it too!), take 60 seconds to reflect on this precious and abundant resource we enjoy. Seek out ways that you can help – educate yourself about the problem, the challenges, the solutions; make a small contribution to the charity of your choice working to provide access to water and sanitation. You’ll find many options by simply googling: solutions to access to water in developing countries. And stop wasting water!!