“Mommy, I’m thirsty.”
Weeks later, she died.
The medic said the diarrhea came from something in the water, and they all believed him. She hadn’t been the first to go. And she wouldn’t be the last.
Over 750 million people worldwide lack access to clean water, and every year, more than 840,000 people die from easily preventable, water-related diseases. To put it into perspective, there are more people without access to clean water than two-and-half times the entire population of the United States, and more die every year from diseases from polluted water than live in the city of San Francisco. The fact is, every minute a child dies from a water-borne disease, 1 in 9 people worldwide don’t have access to clean water, and more people have a mobile phone than a sanitary toilet.
There’s obviously a problem here, and it’s a big one. It becomes even bigger when you look at the broader effects of this appalling lack of what many take for granted. Not only are people in the millions suffering, hundreds of thousands dying, the effects spread to every aspect of personal and community life, branching out from health to education and the economy.
Aside from the obvious health risks, of dehydration, of disease, of death, the lack of clean water has a ripple effect that spreads like a drop of dye in ever-broadening circles in its impact on personal and community life. Women and children worldwide, for instance, spend on average six hours a day walking long, treacherous miles to collect water to sustain them and their families–only, more often than not, this water that they so desperately need to survive is the very thing that poisons them. Even aside from this, the sheer amount of time spent retrieving this water is severely harmful in that it prevents them from working to help support the family financially and improve their conditions. The United Nations estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water, the equivalent to a whole year’s worth of labor by France’s entire workforce. In addition, many children are prevented from attending school, because they have to help carry water. This only furthers the vicious cycle of poverty, dragging them deeper into what seems an inescapable detrimental spiral and robbing them of their futures.
In addition, lack of access to clean water can lead not only to dehydration but even malnutrition or starvation. Access to fresh water is fundamental in relieving global hunger. 84% of people who don’t have access to clean water are also the people who live in rural areas where the only food they’re going to get is likely the food they grow themselves. Reliable access to water can bring greater crop security, and significantly reduce the very real risk many people worldwide face of acute hunger.
Finally, and perhaps most critically, hygiene and sanitation are dramatically improved by access to clean water. Simple but crucial habits like brushing teeth and washing hands are impossible without access to this basic resource. In developing countries, 80% of all illnesses are linked to poor water and/or sanitary conditions. Children are especially vulnerable to the dangerous, invisible bacteria living in the water they drink, because their immune systems are less familiar with the potentially fatal diseases caused. 1 in 5 deaths of children under the age of five is caused by a water-related disease. Hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, die every year from simple diarrhea, caused by inadequate drinking water and poor sanitary conditions.
For many people, poverty is a fact of life. And to me, this is not okay. It might be easy to ignore, that people are dying every day on the other side of the world, to dismiss it as another list of numbers or a tragedy I can’t do anything about.
But the thing is…maybe I can.
Maybe we can.
Without water, it’s all but impossible to break out of the cycle of poverty. The World Health Organization estimates that $260 billion are lost globally each year due to lack of access to clean water. Without it, you can’t grow food, you can’t stay healthy, you can’t go to school or keep working, let alone learn a trade.
The World Health Organization has also shown that every $1 invested in water and sanitation provides, on average, a $4 economic return. And in many places, those few dollars may mean saving a life. Saving a father, brother, mother, sister, child, friend from death. Saving your children from repeating the same weary cycle of suffering.
Numerous organizations exist where for only a few dollars, anyone can help to do this. Some of my favorites are the ones I listed in my Works Cited list. Even if you can’t travel to Africa and dig a well, you might be able to change the fate of an entire community. Water gives hope, and offers the simple opportunity for a better future that without it, is impossibly out of reach.
“Millions Lack Safe Water.” Waterorg. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://water.org/water-crisis/water-facts/water/>.
“Project Humanity – The Power of Clean Water.” Project Humanity RSS. 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <http://projecthumanity.org/>.
“Why Water – Access to Clean, Safe Water in Africa.” The Water Project. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <http://thewaterproject.org/why-water>.
Be Part of The #WaterEffect | World Vision.” World Vision. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2015. <http://www.worldvision.org/water>