Water is the basis for life. No matter what the sport drinks say, water has no substitute. We need it to quench our thirst, grow our food, clean our bodies, clothes and homes. Many of us are lucky enough to have a running tap in our kitchens and bathrooms. It’s easy to forget how important water is, that literally every living thing needs a steady intake to survive, especially humans. But for over one billion people, access to water is a constant struggle.
Contaminated drinking water is one of the major causes of health problems for people in developing countries and the leading cause of death in children. Drinking water is often too far away in rural areas and if it’s not clean, drinking the water puts people at risk of serious waterborne diseases. Where there is no money or support for wells and clean water systems, it is common for people to have no other choice than to drink from the same water source where they bathe, go to the bathroom or take their animals to drink.
Globally, 443 million school days are missed annually because students had some kind of water-related illness. Two million children die each year from infections spread by dirty water or the lack of toilets. Cholera, typhoid and dysentery are three of these diseases you might have heard of before. When the water your body depends on is dirty, it’s almost impossible to stay healthy and grow strong.
Did You Know?
- Our bodies are 60 percent water. It is crucial to everything we do and you can’t be human without it!
- 1.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water.
- 2.4 billion people lack access to proper sanitation facilities
- Two million children die each year from infections spread by dirty water or the lack of toilets.
- Between 1991 and 2000, over 665,000 people died in 2,557 natural disasters. Ninety percent of those were water-related events.
- In developing countries, more than 90 percent of sewage and 70 percent of industrial wastewater is dumped untreated into surface water.
A Closer Look
Water and Girls
Clean water especially helps girls. In many communities, it’s traditionally a daughter’s job to collect water from the nearest river each day. In rural places, this means hours and hours of walking with a heavy load. These girls usually miss school to collect water for their families. At the end of a day of chores like this, there’s little energy for studying – try carrying a couple buckets of water twice around the block before doing your homework! In India, it’s estimated that fetching water consumes 150 million workdays per year from women across the country, equivalent to a loss of 10 billion rupees, or $222 million CND. That’s not to mention what this extra work takes away from playing and having fun with friends, which is a big part of a healthy, happy childhood.
In most societies water is necessary for many activities that are the responsibility of women and girls: food preparation, care of animals, care of the sick, crop irrigation, personal hygiene, cleaning, washing and waste disposal. Water is the key element in the hundreds of things they do for their families and communities.
Free The Children attaches a water project to every school we build so girls can collect water on their way home from class. This saves valuable time and energy that can go toward studying and playing, and it makes sure the whole family is healthy because they’re drinking clean water instead of dirty water from the river.
Global climate change is causing unusual weather all over the world, but is especially threatening to countries near the equator. This area is already poor and the increasing droughts caused by climate change put millions of lives in danger. In a drought, there might not be a single drop of rain for many months on end. The crops that sustain billions of people can’t grow, animals can’t survive, and people have to travel farther and farther for water.
What’s more, in developing communities, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis are just as disastrous as droughts because they contaminate the local water source with human or animal waste. All the stored, safe water is lost. Natural disasters threaten every country and can’t be prevented. However, poverty makes a community even more vulnerable. The Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 is an example of how difficult it can be to rebuild so many homes and livelihoods with so few resources, and how important quick support from the international community is.
- Free The Children’s Clean Water and Sanitation projects.
- Free The Children’s Five Days for Freedom campaign. Click “How do I participate” and download the lesson plan on Clean Water and Sanitation.
- UN-Water, Water for Life Decade 2005-2015 booklet.
- Blue Gold: The Battle Against Corporate Theft of the World’s Water by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, Earthscan Publications Ltd. UK, 2002.
- Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization by Steven Solomon, Harper, 2010.
- The Blue Planet, BBC World TV Miniseries.