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Nov 02 2010

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Water, water everywhere…Not!

water

It started out simple enough with a middle-of-the-night request. “Dad, can I have a drink of water?” came a small, half-awake voice from my son’s room. ”Sure,” I said as I got out of bed and trudged down the hall to the kitchen. As I leaned over the sink with the light of the moon streaming in through the kitchen window, and I let the water run for a moment, it struck me what a wondrous thing this was to be able to go to the tap and get a glass of cool, clean water in the middle of the night. It never would have occurred to me that it would not come out of the wall or that I would have to be concerned with the quality of the water. It has always been there.

As a kid, I remember that there was no greater treat than drinking from the garden hose on a hot summer day. In America, we take water for granted. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, drinking water is always a few steps away as if it were an unalienable right—like life, liberty and guaranteed clean water.

I took my son his water and we sat and talked a little about what a miracle it really was to be able to get a glass of water. And like that saying—out of the mouths of babes—he drops the question: “Doesn’t everyone have water?” I got him back to sleep, but the thought of accessible water kept gnawing at the back of my brain for the remainder of night.

Not being able to sleep, I started researching my son’s question. Being an active environmentalist for more than 40 years, I had a vague understanding about global water issues, but after a few clicks, an email and a couple of texts, I had a new awakening to a crisis of global implications.

It is hard to believe that in this day and age that, according to UN figures, more than 2.6 billion people live without safe drinking water. In the hospitals of sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of the beds are occupied by patients suffering from sanitation- and water-related diseases. UN studies have shown that many diseases could be prevented simply by improving local water supplies. Children are the highest at risk with more than 4,000 dying daily from preventable water-related diseases, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

As we all know, we live on this big, blue ball Earth, the water planet. The problem is that 97% of the Earth’s water is salt water, leaving a meager 3% of freshwater to sustain life for humans, other living creatures, as well as plants and agriculture for a hungry planet. It is not unthinkable that in the not-so-far future, competition for water in an overpopulated world could lead to major border disputes and outright war over water resources.

SO WHAT ARE THE KEY POINTS OF THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS?
• Inadequate access to safe drinking water for about 884 million people
• Inadequate access to water for sanitation and waste disposal for 2.5 billion people
• Excessive use of groundwater leading to diminished agricultural yields
• Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity
• Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in warfare

Growing up in post-war America, I was always amused and a little perplexed by my Mother’s mantra at the close of the evening’s meal: “Be sure and clean your plate because there are starving children in Europe.” I would think to myself how could finishing my broccoli help some poor kid a million miles away? I did voice this observation once to the full force of my Mother’s indignation.

Years later, as an adult, I realized my Mother’s point, which was totally lost on a broccoli-hating eight year old, was one of appreciation. To “appreciate” the food we had in front of us and to think of those less fortunate than ourselves. Now I find myself thinking of others once again every time I pour a glass water at 2 am or while I’m taking a longer-than-normal hot shower or as I watch my sprinklers in action during a downpour.

I have begun to address each of my shortcomings regarding water usage in my own home. We all, including my teenage daughter, now take shorter and timed showers. We have replaced our clothes washer and dishwasher with water-saving and energy-efficient new models, and until I can convince my wife that replacing our lawn with indigenous plants that use and need less water, I have replaced my sprinkler with one on a timer that now turns itself off when it rains. We have also joined several groups to help educate others about water usage and the crisis at hand, as well as to raise money to help build wells and filtration systems where they are truly needed.

Like my Mother, I want my children to appreciate the bounty before them that they now, like most Americans, take for granted. We are truly blessed to live in the greatest country on the planet with our wealth of natural resources, technology and freedoms, but in most cases we are here only by an accident of birth. I didn’t choose to be an American, I was just lucky enough to be born an American and I shudder to think that if the dice had rolled in another direction, I could have been the one living in the Sudan, not to be awakened at 2 am by my son’s request for a glass of water, but to the screams of a sick child dying from the water she drank because her thirst outweighed her thoughts of caution.

I encourage you to find out more about the Global Water Crisis and what you can do to help. Please visit the following links for information, participation and donations.

http://www.charitywater.org/whywater

http://www.endwaterpoverty.org

http://www.cleanwateraction.org

http://www.ewg.org

Kevin Henry

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010 at 6:00 AM and is filed under Green. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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