Imagine taking a 30-minute round trip hike for a little over one gallon of water, a gallon of water that won’t cover your family’s daily water needs. You’ll most likely be making that trip at least once more per day. And while you’re out gathering water, you’re missing school. And if you’re unable to attend school regularly, the likelihood of improving your economic situation drops.
All of us learn early on that water is crucial to our existence, but those of us in developed countries rarely consider what water means in our daily lives. For us, water is plentiful, easy to acquire, and clean.
Long walks for insufficient or unclean water are the reality for many in sub-Saharan Africa who walk 30 minutes or more to obtain 5L of water (a little over a gallon). In other areas of the world, many people lack a clean, reliable water source. In fact, 768 million people in the world don’t have access to an improved drinking water source (“improved” is defined as a piped-in household connection, public tap, protected well, or rainwater collection). A lack of clean water can trap a family in poverty, as illnesses keep family members from working and others’ (mainly women and girls) time is spent traveling for inadequate water supplies, resulting in “time poverty”. Combine this reality with the fact that water usage and access are imbalanced in favor of the wealthier residents of a nation, and it becomes clear that water and social stability are inextricably linked.
For example, Mexico City, a city of 23 million people, depends on the nearby “water forest”, Desierto de los Leones National Park, for its water supply. The forest has lost 30% of its area in the last 40 years, which leads to cities withdrawing more water from aquifers than can be naturally replenished. Without committed measures to preserve the remaining 70%, tension over water access and usage could lead to social and economic instability. Currently, the wealthier residents of Mexico City use an average of 600L per person per day (158 gallons), while poorer residents receive a heavily-rationed 20L per person per day (5 gallons). Imagine the consequences if the scale tipped even more out of balance.
Before you begin to think that the situation is so dire that we’re all headed to a dystopian future where endless wars are fought over water supply, there are governments and organizations working hard to create solutions on the international, national, and local level. UN Water’s World Water Day, which took place on March 22nd, 2014, stated in their key messaging, “Water requires energy, and energy requires water. Saving energy is saving water. Saving water is saving energy.” World Water Day encouraged local organizations all over the world to take part. Empowering people on the local level will make the difference for those 768 million without improved drinking water, the 1.3 billion people who can’t access electricity, and the economic futures of every nation on Earth.
So what can you do in the meantime? World Endeavors has environmental conservation internships in Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, England, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Nepal, and Thailand and volunteer projects in Brazil, Costa Rica, Nepal, or Thailand. You can also volunteer on a women’s development project, as women and girls are often the community members driving environmental conservation efforts. Let us know if you’re interested in interning or volunteering on a project in environmental conservation or women’s development. We’ll do our best to connect you with the field that matches your interest.
If you aren’t able to go abroad right now, you can still be a part of the movement toward conservation. Common sense activities like turning off the lights when you leave a room, turning off the water while you brush your teeth or wash your hands, and washing your clothes in cold water can go a long way toward saving you money and restoring the balance of water and energy usage in your local area. You can find more energy conservation tips here.
Want to learn more?
World Water Day 2014 – http://www.unwater.org/worldwaterday/about-world-water-day/world-water-day-2014-water-and-energy/en/
WHO & Unicef Report on Drinking Water Worldwide – http://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/report_wash_low.pdf
Mexico’s “Water Forest” – http://blog.conservation.org/2014/03/urban-jungle-no-forest-no-water-for-mexico-city/
World Bank Infographic on Water & Energy – http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/01/16/infographic-thirsty-energy-energy-and-water-interdependence