There is a serious issue of inequitable access to clean water on our planet. In the case of my project, I am focusing on lack of access to clean drinking water. Several factors contribute to this problem: lengthy distance to water sources, depletion of water sources due to agriculture and industrial use, natural hydrology due to geographical variation, drought caused by climate change, and water contamination due to lack of sanitation and hygiene infrastructure. Water is central to sustainable development and crucial for human survival. Unfortunately, water is also a social justice and human rights issue. As the planet’s population increases, there is increasing need to balance the use of water for industrial and commercial use, while maintaining enough for the individual’s basic hygienic needs.
Water is one of the most fundamental requirements for human existence and human health. As a building block of a healthy community, in order to reduce global burden of disease, while improving the health, education, and economic productivity of populations. In fact, the United Nations officially recognized water and sanitation as a human right in 2010, validating this basic human necessity. Despite this acknowledgement, there is still an overwhelming lack of potable water access in many places, specifically in developing countries where water shortages, flooding, drought, and contamination are present. According to the UN, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services and even more striking, 340,000 children under five die every year due to preventable contamination-caused diarrheal diseases. Although this is an issue larger than any one person, individuals are capable of making small changes to their daily life to help solve this major health, environmental and social justice issue on our planet.
One may wonder, “How does taking a shorter shower help to mitigate this problem?” and you would be right, it wouldn’t. Reducing our individual water use is not necessarily the solution to this problem, although it is still a good practice. Rather, individuals should take action and advocate for global efforts to solve this problem. Addressing climate change, providing education, and promoting consumer awareness are essential in taking action on a large scale.
As climate change persists, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. Sea levels are rising, droughts are plaguing communities, and biodiversity is being threatened. It is hard to imagine what an individual can do to resolve these deficits. However, as David Suzuki, from the David Suzuki Foundation stresses, “In a world of more than seven billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket. But with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.” In regards to poor access to clean drinking water, recognizing the role of climate change is one of the first steps in becoming more aware and active in combatting this problem.
According to the Climate Change Reality Project, the rate of evaporation from the ocean rises as the world warms. Globally, the higher rate of evaporation is contributing to an increase in the average rainfall. However, more intense rain does not necessarily mean wetter soils. Rain that falls as heavy downpour doesn’t actually help crops or other plants. Rather than soaking into the soil, this rain water ends up flooding and producing contaminated runoff. On the other hand, these unusual weather patterns also impact desert regions, making their yearly rainfalls even fewer and far between.
Acknowledging human contribution to climate change and climate change’s contribution to water deficit is important in addressing the cycle of barriers to clean water. Citizens can action by addressing their local congressman, state governor, or even mayor to enact environmentally conscious policies and spread awareness on the issue; one that not only has potential to impact one’s own community, but is currently impacting 40% of the global population who face water scarcity.
Another critical piece in promoting change includes education. It’s time to educate our peers on the lack of education and opportunity that many people experience as a result of limited access to safe water. Specifically, spreading awareness for those who are disproportionally affected tends resonates more personally with people and evokes further action. specifically, women and girls are responsible for water collection in 80% of households without access to water in close proximity. This means that they are burdened with the task of abandoning other obligations such as work, home projects, and most importantly education. This extra burden of traveling on foot for a human necessity, one that may even be contaminated or depleted, is extremely time consuming, physically taxing, and simply unfair. In addition, women and girls are being deprived of proper education in addition to many other opportunities that could be beneficial to fulfillment and growth. In fact, every day, women and young girls carry 40 pounds of dirty water from sources over 4 miles away from their homes. This leaves little time for education which is imperative to redirecting the long term prospects of developing countries. If not addressed effectively, this issue has potential to further perpetuate an unfortunate cycle of poverty and inequality.
This “cycle” applies to every student in some capacity. The Clean Water Project stresses that “education is critical for breaking the cycle of poverty and yet over half of the world’s schools lack access to safe water…” Lack of clean water has major impact on students’ academic performance and attendance rates. No matter the intellectual ability or commitment of the student, severe pain and diarrhea will most definitely create a blockage in academic achievement and momentum. Students miss classes to go fetch water, or to care for sick family members. Likewise, the teacher will often miss class for water-related illness. This means no school for any of the students, sick or healthy.
Holding a “teach-in” of sorts to educate peers on this matter would likely influence them to contribute to organizations such as the Water Project, amongst many others. Using platforms such as one’s school, university, workplace, or even community would provide the momentum needed to put this issue at the forefront. This effort could also spark passion in others, leading them to continue raising awareness.
In addition to activism and education, the knowledge and employment of consumer choice is yet another way the individual can have a positive impact. The fashion industry is a massive consumer and polluter of water. For instance, according to Pennsylvania State University’s Mathematics and Sustainability research center, it takes roughly “1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce just pair of regular ol’ blue jeans.” This does not even account for the water used in the dye process or the water used when machine washing the jeans. With these factors in consideration, it takes a whopping 9,982 gallons of water overall for one pair of jeans. With this knowledge, consumers can become more mindful of their purchases by a) not purchasing jeans and other cotton garments as often, b) purchasing garments that are made to last from companies such as Levi’s and c) spot cleaning garments, instead of machine washing or purchasing a replacement.
When it comes to purchasing, however, there are companies that are conscious of their water footprint and social impact. “Sevenly” is an advocacy and apparel company that creates trendy tees to support specific charities, including clean water access and sanitation projects. They also partner with Water.org for World Water Day and has raised over $5 million dollars for charities all over the world. Another way to reduce one’s water impact is to buy only “certified organic cotton”. This indicates that the cotton is grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals that can contribute to water pollution. According to the app, Good on You, cotton is the biggest culprit of water consumption and pollution, “accounting for 24% of the world’s insecticide use and 11% of pesticide use”. Unfortunately, these cotton croplands are often located in developing countries. For this reason, it is important to look at the location where the garments were manufactured, so that you can be informed of that country’s water health and availability. Finding clothing that is manufactured in less water-vulnerable places is a suitable alternative. In addition, purchasing clothing made from alternatives to the water consumptive cotton crop, such as flax, monocel (form of bamboo material), linen, and recycled polyester, are some sustainable choices.
In regard to other consumer products, “Cupanion” is a company that holds sustainability and water access at the forefront. This is a reusable water bottle company that fulfills their social responsibility of paying it forward: marketing themselves as “more than a reusable product company”. There “Fill it Forward” app bridges the gap between information and reality to help the user understand their environmental footprint. In addition to tracking one’s footprint, the company gives clean water to those in need each time the user scans their label on their Cupanion bottle. All of the products ship with the “Fill it Forward” label and barcode so that when you scan your bottle during each use, you are contributing to the successes of water based projects around the world. The Cupanion website even has the updated number of “cups of clean water given” each day!
There are a number of resources that can be employed to guide individuals in making strides to help those facing water scarcity. Here are some additional resources that can provide insight and tools for improvements to this global issue:
Charity: Water: https://www.charitywater.org
Sustainable fashion: https://goodonyou.eco/fashion-and-water-the-thirsty-industry/