When a basic necessity is within arms reach — such as clean water for drinking, bathing, and cooking — it’s easy to take it for granted. And it could be hard to believe given the technologically advanced world and privileged bubble many of us live in, but there are millions of people in communities all over the world who still struggle to access clean water. Many factors contribute to the shortage, including drought, pollution, unsafe levels of lead in water, and distance to the water source itself.
Only 2.5 % of the world’s water is fresh and drinkable, and according to the World Health Organization, 663 million people are experiencing water shortages.
The consequences of not having fresh water can be absolutely deadly, and they go beyond a person’s need to drink clean water on a daily basis. Of course, water is also essential for laundry purposes and to maintain hygienic sanitation systems (in other words, everyday things we don’t think twice about). When water gets contaminated, it can make people severely ill and malnourished.
The shortage of clean water is currently a dire problem in countries such as Bahrain and Qatar in the Middle East, Djibouti and Cape Verde in Africa, many countries in the Caribbean, and India. Without renewable fresh water, these countries rely on imported bottled water. It’s prohibitively expensive for communities that are already so vulnerable.
The shortage also adversely affects agriculture, because crops can’t grow and farmers are forced to scale down or stop their work entirely.
Women and girls often bear the brunt of the water crisis.
In rural Indian and African communities that divide labor along more traditional gender roles, the responsibility often falls on women to provide for their family. Can you imagine taking a long walk with a 40-pound container of water? That’s the reality of many women.
Unfortunately, children are also at a huge risk. Apart from the obvious necessity of drinking clean water and being able to use a proper toilet at home and school, being thirsty affects their concentration at school and causes them to miss school entirely when they need to search for water.
When kids are out of school, they miss out on opportunities that we also take for granted, like pursuing higher education, taking an internship, socializing with other children, and developing critical social, functional, and professional skills.
But this isn’t just a problem experienced by people abroad — many communities in the U.S. also live without clean water.
We’ve all heard of the Flint water crisis, right? The water in the city of Flint is contaminated with lead from corroded pipes, and this has been an ongoing issue for four years now. Aside from that, CNBC made a startling discovery in 2016.
So the question is, what is being done about it?
There are many organizations working around the clock to envision new ways for clean water to be delivered to underdeveloped communities. One of them is Water Aid International, which has introduced 24-hour ATM-style kiosks in India. For six cents, locals can purchase 20 liters of water. They are solar powered, so even if the electricity runs out, people are covered.
Some organizations are focusing on innovative technology to address the water crisis, such as the nonprofit Dar Si Hmad, which introduced mesh nets to trap the moisture from fog. The Guardian notes that they were awarded the UN’s Momentum for Change award last year.
The severity of this situation might feel overwhelming, but there are things we can do as well. Most importantly, let’s use water responsibly to ensure that we’re not wasting it. Twenty-minute showers are nice, but totally unnecessary in the big scheme of things.
Passionate young scientists like Gitanjali Rao are leading the way for progress.
If you’d like to start a fundraising effort for communities who are less fortunate, you can do that via The Water Project. Every bit goes a long way toward helping a family have access to water. When they don’t have to spent hours searching for it, they can focus their energy on other critical things like education.
There’s a tremendously long way to go for change, but remaining actively informed about the current state of the water crisis is essential.