Much of the talk about water in the First World concerns keeping our water costs down, what kinds of bottles to drink it from, or how much we need to stay healthy and hydrated. Yet across the globe in developing nations, there is a water crisis: nearly one billion people lack access to safe, clean water. More than twice as many people don’t have access to a toilet. In honor of World Water Day, March 22, here is crucial information on the water crisis, and what you can to do help.
According to Water.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing access to clean water and sanitation and co-founded by Matt Damon and CEO Gary White, 884 million people–more than 3 times the number of people living in the US–lack access to clean water. A staggering number of people worldwide–over 3.5 million–die annually from water-related disease.
Women and children are hit particularly hard. Tragically, children comprise 84% of these annual deaths, with a child dying every 20 seconds as as result of water-related diseases. This rate is the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours. Surviving children miss 443 million school days annually due to infections related to poor sanitation. Meanwhile, women log over 200 million hours of work daily–the American equivalent of building 28 Empire State buildings–collecting water for their families. This time is not spent working for pay, pursuing education or providing personal care for self or family.
Access and cost in developed and developing nations also factor into the water crisis. Income exceeds the cost of water in developed nations, while the cost of water far exceeds income in developing nations. Almost two out of every three people who need clean water in developing nations survive on less than $2 a day while one of three people survives on less than $1 day.
Estimates suggest that investment in water sanitation would result in 272 million more days of school attendance annually, while the financial gain from lives saved, based on discounted future earnings, would amount to US $3.6 billion a year. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) projections, every $1 invested in water sanitation generates returns of anywhere between $3-$34, depending on the technology and region, thereby improving economic productivity and development.
Lack of access to clean water contributes heavily not only to preventable fatalities, but poverty and lack of education as well. Despite efforts to provide and secure worldwide access to clean water, over 50% fail due to lack of community involvement. Less than 5% of projects are visited, and even fewer (less than 1%) have any long-term monitoring. Taking these factors into consideration, Water.org partners with indigenous organizations and proffer community leadership and ownership.
While the facts surrounding the water crisis are bleak, opportunities to help are anything but. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter offer much-needed information and connections. Financial donations are welcome, as are local fundraisers and promotions at races and other events. Regardless of what you choose, the most important thing is to get involved.