Odorless, colorless and tasteless, water is the basic building block of life. In this country and in our local communities, we often take it for granted. For us, clean water is just a tap or a fountain away. The ease with which we can obtain and afford to waste water is truly astounding. How many of us, for example, allow the water to run as we brush our teeth, wash our faces and go about our morning routines?
In many countries across the world, access to water is not a guaranteed right, but a luxury. In the United States, each person uses an average of 578 liters of freshwater per day. In contrast, the average African uses about 47 liters of freshwater. 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean and safe drinking water, while 2.4 billion do not have proper sanitation facilities.
Women and children are traditionally the most affected by this water crisis. Children represent nearly half of the 900 million people without access to clean water. As waterborne illnesses are the second leading cause of preventable childhood deaths, a lack of clean and safe water is one major reason why 24,000 children die every day from preventable causes, such as diarrhea, hunger and malaria.
Women are also disproportionately affected by inadequate access to water. In developing countries around the world, women are responsible for collecting water, cooking and cleaning. Fetching water for a household’s daily needs often falls to the girls in a family. Because many families do not live near a clean water source, girls often must get up as early as 4:30 a.m. to perform the necessary chores in order to obtain water. The average distance to an acceptable water source is 5 kilometers, and girls shoulder an average of 5 gallons of water on the return trip.
Because they must devote so much time to their daily water trips, girls in those communities are often prevented from attending school. Even those who are not tasked with water collection are sometimes discouraged from getting an education by the scarcity of separate and private sanitation facilities.
In addition, girls become easy targets for sexual abuse and other attacks when they travel long distances to get water. During times of conflict, these journeys are even more fraught with peril. Ensuring that wells and other sources of water are located closer to homes would prevent women and girls from having to face dangerous conditions and allow them to engage in more productive activities, such as attending school or holding a job.
There are ways for Georgetown students to be proactive in combating the global water crisis. First, we can turn off the tap when we brush our teeth or shave our faces (or legs). Second, we can spread the word. The more people who are aware of the crisis, and the simple ways that they can help alleviate it, the bigger an impact our efforts will have.
Better yet, we can all grab a bunch of friends and go out to eat this week. Yesterday, March 22, was the United Nations’ World Water Day, and March 21-27 is dedicated to World Water Week. UNICEF is hosting its major campaign to combat the water crisis – the Tap Project across the United States. The Tap Project, which has thousands of participating restaurants around the country, is based on a very simple concept. Restaurants ask their patrons to pay $1 for the glass of tap water they usually receive for free. Each dollar supports water, sanitation and hygiene, and can give a child in a developing country 40 days of clean drinking water. Can we find a better way to spend a spare dollar?
Claire Charamnac is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and a fellow of WAGE (Women Advancing Gender Equity). Renata Moniaga is also a junior in the School of Foreign Service and president of UNICEF-Georgetown.