It’s all too easy to take for granted all of the conveniences available to us as citizens of a developed country. Having access to clean water is a privilege that goes far beyond just being able to use it for drinking or cooking. It can significantly improve the lives of people in poverty for a number of reasons.
For example, access to clean water usually means a person is more likely to have food to eat. After all, 70 percent of our global water use is for irrigation and agriculture. Often, a lack of clean water means a corresponding lack of food, because communities are unable to grow their own. About 84 percent of the people who don’t have access to clean water live on subsistence agriculture, which means that they are dependent on the growth of their own food for survival.
If people have access only to dirty, contaminated water, then they are in constant danger of waterborne diseases like diarrhea, cholera, fluorosis, HIV, malaria, typhoid and parasites such as intestinal worms. All of these run rampant through unsafe water supplies.
If people are getting sick, then someone in the family has to take care of them. That leaves two people out of school or work. Two people whose education or livelihood is put on hold because there isn’t an accessible clean water source.
Oftentimes, women undertake the time-consuming act of hauling water from its source to the villages where it is needed. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 40 billion hours a year are spent hauling water. This leads to to a sort of “time poverty,” where there is less time for endeavors like receiving an education or making money.
Without access to proper sanitation, many girls drop out of school when they reach puberty. Unsafe water acts as a barrier to education for young women in particular, perpetuating the global poverty and gender inequality cycle.
When mothers fear their children are going to die of diseases, they have more children in the hopes that some of them will survive, which often leads to poor maternal health and overpopulation problems. Poor maternal health can also lead to orphaned children who are left to fend for themselves and do not have time for education because they are focused on survival.
In fact, access to clean water is something that underlays almost all of the Millennium Development Goals – eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating disease and ensuring environmental sustainability. In the new set of Sustainable Development Goals, ensuring access to water and sanitation for all is a goal in itself.
Gary Evans of Living Water International put it like this: “We’re in a world where there are 900 million people barely treading water, and the water’s too low for them to reach the ladder. They don’t need a boat. They don’t need a helicopter to rescue them. They just need a little boost so they can reach the ladder. Then they can climb out on their own. Clean water provides that boost.”
So, it’s clear why clean water is important. And the best part? There really is plenty to go around. Groups like The Water Project and Living Water International are working to build sand dams, wells and devices for water collection and sanitation. Every dollar invested in water and sanitation generates about eight dollars worth of health, time and productivity.
Unsafe water and lack of water causes a lot of problems, but what this really means is that there is one simple fix that will address a multitude of global poverty issues. Clean water means a better world in terms of equality, education, health, food security and more.
– Emily Dieckman
Sources: UN 1, UN 2, UN 3, UNICEF, Water, The Water Project
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