10 January 2005

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

Water. You never think about how important a simple thing like water is until you don't have any.

This morning on NPR there was a piece (you ought to listen to it: "In Some Areas, Clean Water a Problem Before Tsunami") on clean drinking water. Then think about this: every 15 seconds somewhere in the world a child dies because of a lack of clean drinking water. That is equivalent to 20 jumbo jets full of children crashing every day. In many countries there is no water that can be drunk without boiling. In some third world countries there simply is no water, never mind no purification systems.

Did you know that
after the first Gulf War 49,000 Iraqi children died? They died because we bombed the facilities that purified their water. They died of diarrhea and dysentery--of diseases caused by a lack of clean drinking water, diseases easily cured by antibiotics--something else that they didn't have either, because we bombed their hospitals. That number is more than 10 times the number of adults that died on 9/11. They died long before 9/11. They died because of a lack of clean water.

In S.E. Asia, in the places hit by the tsunami, there is a huge problem with the lack of drinking water. The problem is not just post tsunami, but has always been there. Nearly 300, 000 were killed by the tsunami waves. Did you know that nearly that many die annually because of a lack of clean drinking water? How many more will die there long after the tsunami relief workers have gone and the donations have dried up?

And yet Americans spend $10 billion dollars a year on bottled water. Not just any water out of the tap, but fancy bottled water (yeah, I know lots of that "fancy" water IS out of a tap somewhere, but I won't go into the whole Dasani/Aquafina bilk now--that's a corporate greed story for another occasion). But think about that number--we are talking $10 BILLION dollars here. That is about three times what we've pledged for tsunami relief. That is 100 times more than the $40 million dollars that we now spend on helping people in third world countries to achieve clean water.

Here in America we
turn on the faucet and get a glass. No biggie. It is just water. We leave the water running in the shower, in the sink while we brush our teeth. We water our grass. We wash our clothes, our bodies, our cars. Hell, we flush our toilets with water that is better than most whole countries have for drinking.

Hey, you are probably saying, Can I help it if I am lucky enough not to live in a third world nation? After all, I'm paying for the water I use whether it comes out of the bottle or out of the tap. Why does it matter what I do with MY water?

Let me make it clear. Do I expect you personally solve water problems around the globe? No. All I really want is for you to think about the resource of water. To be aware of it every single time you turn on the tap. To respect it and not to waste it. I'm just telling you what I know.

But then again, if you are a real human being, one who gives a damn about his fellow man (note: that is "fellow man" as in any man, any woman, not just Americans), you could choose to buy one less bottle of water per month. You could send a mere $15 (less than a night at the movies for two!) to Water Aid or UNICEF or any of the relief agencies that fund clean water worldwide. You could do that once a year.

Now if just a third of this country (let's see, 281 million Americans divided by 3.33 is 84 million) did that, we could send 1.2 billion dollars per year toward funding clean water worldwide. That is thirty times what we currently spend on world water aid. For that kind of money we could fix the clean water problem in a year or so and move on to solve world hunger, HIV/Aids, other diseases, homelessness, education . . . . There is no end in sight to what we could accomplish.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all chipped in we could solve world peace. Think about it. In a world where no one is hungry or thirsty or homeless or uneducated or unemployed, why would anyone want to wage war?

Now you go do what you want to do about your water. I know what I will do.

For more information on clean water issues around the world see the Pacific Institute website.

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