Living Water: What we can and can’t do about the global water crisis


Published on Thomson Reuters Foundation for International Youth Day on 09.08.13

Source: Fri, 9 Aug 2013 04:10 PM
Author: Alicia Hosking

Scrawled on the wall in the shower block where I do hot yoga on Tuesday nights are the words, ‘Non c’è vita senza acqua’ – that is, ‘There’s no life without water’. When thinking about the biggest global challenges we face today, access to clean water and sanitation would have to be right at the top of the list.

With five years to spare, the world has achieved UN Millennium Development Goal number 7D and halved the proportion of the planet’s population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Since 1990, 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved water sources. But ‘halved’ means the other half of the problem remains.

The facts are still astounding: 768 million people lack access to safe water, mainly in developing regions across sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Globally, 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet, meaning more people have a mobile phone than a WC.

Collectively, women and girls spend 200 million hours every day walking to collect water. That’s time they can’t spend in education, working or taking care of their families, and time when they’re at greater risk of harassment and sexual assault.

When they do arrive at the nearest water source, after a hike of up to three hours, the supply is often plagued with waterborne diseases like malaria, diarrhea and cholera. In fact, water-related diseases kill more people every year than all forms of violence around the world, including war. Most tragically of all, every 21 seconds a mother loses a child to a water-related illness.

As with many of the world’s most pressing social challenges, the enormity of the issue can paralyse us into doing nothing. But nothing is precisely what we cannot do. There are, hidden within every day, simple yet profound opportunities for us all to address the gross inequality that exists between the San Pellegrino drinker and the woman walking to the well.

Waste not, want not

Seemingly minor water savings in our homes can help turn the tide, as it were, on the global water crisis. We use an average of 137 litres of water per day on obvious things around the house, like drinking, cooking, showering, cleaning and laundry. But there is another, less visible way in which we get through far more water: the 167 litres used to produce the industrial products we consume in an average day, like paper, cotton and clothes. The old mantra comes to mind: reduce, reuse, recycle.

Watch what you eat

The big one, though, weighing in at 92 percent of our average daily consumption, is water spent on food production. Some 3,496 litres of water are hidden in our food each day. In fact, around 90 percent of the planet’s freshwater withdrawals go on feeding us.

Devout carnivores don’t like to hear it, but beef production is the worst perpetrator. All things considered (crop irrigation, drinking water, farmhouse services), it takes 14,400 litres of water to produce one kilogramme of boneless beef. In stark contrast, 822 litres go into producing a kilo of apples, 1,220 litres into a kilo of maize, 2,145 litres for a kilo of soya beans and 2,500 litres for a kilo of rice.

Initiatives like Meatless Mondays, founded in the USA in 2003, are gaining momentum worldwide, encouraging those less enthused about tofu and lentils to give up meat for just one day a week to help ease the environmental strain. Choosing meat raised on grass, rather than corn or grain, is preferable wherever possible and reducing food waste is crucial.

Drink responsibly

While the environmental impact and volume of water wastage surrounding the bottled water industry is a point of concern, there are brands out there intent on making a difference in developing nations.

Take for example Australian start-up Thankyou Water. Founded by Daniel Flynn five years ago when he was just 19 years-old, Thankyou Water has developed a sustainable business model by which every single unit sold at retail provides at least a month’s worth of safe water to someone in need. Using their ‘Track Your Impact’ app, customers can enter a code found on their purchased product and trace their contribution to the cause.

Give it away now

Charity: water, established by New York marketing guru Scott Harrison back in 2006, has created the birthdays campaign, providing each of us with a great opportunity to change the world once a year.

Birthday pledgers sign up to forego traditional presents, instead encouraging loved ones to donate towards the construction of water wells. To date, over 40,000 people, including Justin Bieber, Tony Hawk and the band Depeche Mode, have chosen to make a social impact with their birthday, raising more than $9 million for water projects around the globe.

The feeling of a refreshing shower or a cool drink of clean water is second to none – particularly after 90 minutes of hot yoga. Everyone should know how that feels.

Non c’è vita senza acqua.