It’s Blog Action Day once more and this year the theme is… Water.
Water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week. 90 per cent of these are children under the age of five: some 3,800 lives cut short every single day because the poor mites drank unsafe water and lacked the most basic of sanitation facilities, amounting to 1.4 million child deaths annually.
Such frustrating facts, yet the truth is that unclean water and inadequate sanitation actually claim more lives each year than all forms of violence combined, including war (although a 1999 report commissioned by the UN found that scarcity of water, rather than oil, will become the leading cause of conflict in Africa over the next quarter of a century).
Nearly a billion people, still, in 2010 for goodness sake, lack access to clean water, which leads to many a disease, many of them entirely preventable. That’s about one in eight of us. It causes 80 per cent of diseases, such as typhoid, E. coli, salmonella, cholera and Hepatitis A, and accounts for half the world’s hospitalisations at any given moment.
I have plenty more facts and stats to make you feel queasy, don’t you worry.
The ancient Romans had better quality water than half the people alive right now.
A child born in sub-Saharan Africa is 520 times more likely to die from such diseases than a child born in Europe or the USA.
Diarrhoea kills more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
Consider, if you will, that more people presently have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. Some 2.5 billion people haven’t the dignity provided by a simple a lavatory. Obviously this means that waste spills into rivers and streams, further contaminating water supplies. And did you know that there can be more than a million germs contained in every gram of human faeces?
Meanwhile, as industrialised countries consume much, much more than their fair share (about fifteen times as much), every day, African women and children spend a combined total of 109 million hours walking to retrieve water – which is rarely safe for their consumption. This necessitates carrying great weight often for a great distance. Aside from the considerable strain on their bodies, this thoroughly depressing routine keeps children out of school; 443 million school days are lost because of diseases caused by lack of water and sanitation.
The average person in the developed world uses 465 litres of water per day. Five minutes spent in the shower accounts for about 45 litres of the stuff, which is more than a typical person in a developing country will use in an entire day.
Your iPhone requires half a litre of water to charge. There are over 80 million iPhones in the world, so that’s 40 million litres just to periodically charge them.
It takes approximately 24 litres of water to produce a solitary hamburger.
Then there’s bottled water. The USA, Mexico and China lead the world in its consumption, with 200 bottles consumed per person per year in the US on average. Over 17 million barrels of oil are needed to manufacture the bottles, 86 per cent of which will never be recycled, which has previously caused me to irately leap onto my soap box (for Earth Day earlier this year).
In July this year, the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right “essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights.” Better late than never, as they say. Let’s not forget that little more than a century ago, New York, London and Paris, those three great thriving hubs of civilisation, were rife with disease. Child death rates were as high then as they are now in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Funny how improvements can be made so swiftly when the children of the comparatively privileged are dying in large numbers, isn’t it?
If you are the diligent, compassionate and caring being I believe you to be, please commit to using a little less water from now on. Your tips and gadgets welcome. A water butt isn’t going to fit under the Christmas tree, it’s true, but it would make a great gift for someone green-fingered, I think.
You might find this Water Footprint Calculator helpful. It estimates the total amount of water you use – your water footprint – if you provide some information about your water use and habits. (A link to non-US/metric calculator, here.)
If you can spare an hour, there’s a rather shocking film called A World Without Water that should be compulsory viewing in all schools, I believe. If you can only spare three minutes, watch this instead.
Perhaps you could take thirty seconds at most to help call on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to accelerate the UN’s commitment to halve the number of people without sustainable access to clean water and safe sanitation by 2015. We’re talking about something as simple and relatively affordable as a well and a latrine here; things we take for granted no matter where we go. The economic return of investing in improved access to safe drinking water was believed by the World Health Organization to be ten-fold in 2008, so why is it taking so long?
Clean water alone would reduce water-related deaths by 21 per cent. Think of that when you’re taking a shower or listening to your coffee boil.
And when you’re next out walking the dog, imagine you’re on your way to collect some cloudy, dirty water to give your kids to drink and bathe in; knowing that it could well make them sick, but it’s all you have access to. Imagine the burden of 20kg (perhaps that’s what your dog weighs, try carrying him) on the way back home. Consider for just one moment that the money you’ll next spend without giving it a second thought on pizza could provide someone with a clean supply of water for 20-odd years, and that would at least make all their future journeys far less painful.
(I don’t know exactly how much water will go into producing your next pizza or mine, so I’m somewhat relieved to inform you that I cannot make you, or myself, feel doubly guilty at this point.)
All I can say with a degree of certainty and strong conviction is that, for so many to succumb to preventable water-borne diseases in the year 2010 is a global disgrace in which we are all implicated, whether we choose to accept it or not.
Now, as this blog proudly carries the name of a musician, how about some suitable songs and lyrics interspersed with the serious to lighten the mood a little? I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether to be sombre or sanguine in your commenting, but there’s no getting away from Dylan’s epic ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’:
“Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the colour, where none is the number
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”
Have a pleasant weekend, everyone. I’m sorry that there was no chat this week; the next one’s on Tuesday, should you be able to join me for it.