Water: Respect this life-giving resource

March 22, 2013 was World Water Day. This is a day where those of us in the developed world should pause before we turn on the tap and allow one of the earth’s most precious resources flow down the drain. We should reflect on how this shared vital resource was intended to quench the thirst of our global community; however, 780 million people lack access to clean water.

So, let’s take a moment and imagine that we are a teenage girl in sub-Sahara Africa getting up at the crack of dawn to fetch our family’s daily water supply. We leave our mud hut with a 5-gallon jug balanced on our head and start our long journey to the nearest river which is five miles away. As we take a deep sigh knowing this is just the first leg, because we need to repeat it three more times to get our family’s daily allotment for cooking, bathing, washing clothes and drinking. As we take our subsequent trips, our pace begins to slow from the burning heat of  the blistering sun. Soon the weight from the water sloshing back and forth in the bucket is taking a toll on our arms, legs and back. The river that we hauled this water from may not be free of contaminants thus putting our family at risk of being infected by a water-borne disease such as cholera.

Now you have contemplated the realities of countless women and girls around the world, who fetch a mere fraction of what we use in water on given day. What if we truly walked in their shoes? Would we let the water run while we brush our teeth or turn on the shower then go do something else?  Would we worry about watering our lawns or washing the dirt from the siding of our house? These are important questions to ponder the next time you reach for the faucet.

From living in Liberia for two separate years, I have learned to appreciate the value of water. The picture collage below is of my bathroom in the house I rented in 2009 to 2010. Unlike most people in Liberia, I was blessed to have a bathroom in my house. Though it had no piped in water, the water I used was fetched from the well next door at the landlords. In the picture on the left, the green storage bin held the water for bathing and flushing the toilet. The white 5-gallon bucket in the tub is what I used for bathing. The middle picture is what I call my water heater, because this thermos contained the hot water I would use for my daily bath. The picture on the right it what I like to refer as my shower head, because I dipped this in the bucket and poured the water over my head to rinse. Since I was not sure if the water was treated, I poured a cap-full of a liquid antiseptic into my bucket before bathing. Additionally, I drank and brushed my teeth with bottled water. Compared to most Liberians, my inconvenience was bearable and made me aware of how lucky I was to have running water in my home country.

Fortunately, most of us in the developed world have piped in water that we can use with minimal interruption. Unfortunately, we usually take this life-giving resource for granted and allow it to be wasted. Though we possess the knowledge that water covers about 70% of the earth, we fail to realize that potable (i.e. drinking) water only represents less than 3% of this vast supply and it is being rapidly depleted in areas such as the Ogallala Aquifer. Many of these fresh water sources are continually contaminated and polluted from various human activities such a manufacturing and agriculture. So, as another World Water Day has moved on, can we take this shared precious resource for granted anymore?

A Simple Wish For A Better World

We live in a world where money and things often define one’s worth. Yet, most people living in developed nations take for granted the simple and basic things that arguably should be available for everyone on this planet. Many of us fail to realize that those living in extreme poverty did not choose to do so. According to the World Bank statistics on poverty in 2008, “1.29 billion people lived in extreme poverty below $1.25 a day, equivalent to 22 percent of the population in the developing world.” This equates to about 18% of the world’s population.

This post is based on a simple wish that is achievable with a little actual effort by everyone. I got this idea from Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and 2006 Nobel Peace Laureate, who developed ten indicators that determined when someone had moved out of poverty. When I first read these indicators in his book “Banker to the Poor” and again in his other book “Creating a World Without Poverty“, I gained the insight that only one thing stops people from achieving self-sufficiency. That one thing is access to resources needed to put their talents to work.

For the past year, I have been reciting a simple wish as a daily ritual during my long morning commutes to work. I have modified Dr. Yunus’ model to focus on the the basic necessities that no one of us should ever take for granted. Following are ten parts of my wish illustrated by a photograph or statistical statement that allows you to reflect on the meaning of each one.

1) May everyone have a roof over their head that protects them from the elements, and the temperature inside is comfortable no matter how hot or cold it is outside.

This was taken in 2005 during my second trip to Liberia. A woman was renting this room with the deteriorating zinc roof.

2) May everyone sleep on bed that is above the floor and not overcrowded.

This was taken during my first year of residence in Liberia in 2007. This person had built a thatch palm hut near the ocean in Congo Town. Based on the location, chances were high they would experience flooding and therefore have to sleep on a wet mattress.

3) May everyone enjoy an adequate number of nutritious, tasty and satisfying meals per day that are prepared on a clean and safe cook stove/oven.

The photo to the left is what is known in Liberia as a coal pot. This was how my daily meals were prepared in 2009-2010. Source: The Hunger Project – Facts About Hunger and Poverty.

4) May everyone quench their thirst with clean, fresh and safe drinking water whose source is near their home.

Source: Water.org – Water Facts

5) May everyone have a private, hygienic, and environmentally friendly sanitation system and shower facility that is easily accessible.

This was taken during my second year of residency in Liberia in 2009. This is someone’s bathroom that has a makeshift curtain for privacy.

6) May everyone have access to affordable, reliable and compassionate healthcare that is within a reasonable distance and may they not be turned away if they are unable to pay.

Source to UC (University of California) Atlas of Global Inequality – Access to Health Care

7) May every child receive a world class, twenty-first century education that acknowledges all learning styles, provides a global perspective, and cultivates their talents and skills.

This picture was taken in January 2012 by Kelvin Fomba. We launched an adopt-a-school project this year to support this school in Congo Town Liberia serving 250 students in Kindergarten thru sixth grades.

8) May everyone of eligible working age obtain a job or create a business that fulfills their passion and compensates them well enough so all their needs are met.

This was taken in 2009 where I was living in New Georgia Estate, Monrovia, Liberia. This teenage girl is organizing the peanuts (aka ground peas in Liberia) on her market table as she waits for buyers.

9) May everyone regardless of their profession be valued and respected and cause no undue harm to people, other living things and the environment.

This was taken in 2009 on the Sinkor Old Road, Monrovia, Liberia. Someone’s business–their only means of livelihood–is being forcibly removed from its original location at the order of the mayor.

10) Finally, may we all come to realize that we each play a role in making this a better world by being good stewards of the earth and good neighbors to each other.

This is was taken in 2007 near the Ducor Palace in Monrovia, Liberia. It is from today’s actions or inactions that we determine the fate of children all over the world.

I want to end this post by Thanking all my faithful readers! I appreciate all your thoughts, comments and reflections about my posts. This blog’s goal is to UNITE all the DISTANT STARS in a thoughtful expression of how we have more in common than most people realize. I wish everyone the Happiest and Most Blessed New Year in 2013!!!

[1] Amartya Sen, Indian Bengali economist, 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory.