Water covers 70% of Earth across the 7 oceans and many lakes, rivers, and ponds. Of that just 1% is drinkable water, the other 99% is salt water. Humans are made up of about 60% water. Likewise many animals and plants are, at their core, mostly water. Drinkable water is a vital resource of this planet for us and other species, and one that 1/5 of Earth’s population (more than 1 billion people) lack day to day. Those that lack access to clean drinking water end up in worse health situations as clean drinking water is key to staying healthy. Unsafe drinking water and the lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. This is done because of some pretty scary diseases that can come from the unsafe drinking water. Also, more people have access to a cell phone than have access to a toilet.
If I’m correct, most of you probably know these facts already, but where you diverge from the truth is that you pin Africa and the Middle East (as well as sometimes India, and maybe others) as being the only locations where clean water is an issue. I’m sorry to say this, but you’re wrong. Access to clean water is a global environmental and sustainability issue on top of being a human rights issue.
On July 28, 2010 the United Nations General Assembly declared that access to clean drinking water is essential for the full enjoyment of the other human rights, and therefore a human right itself. In this declaration they state deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion do not have access to basic sanitation. They also cited studies that indicate about 1.5 million children under age 5 die each year (38,000 children die each week) and 443 million school days are lost because of water and sanitation diseases. The United States, thought of as the most powerful country at the moment, objected to this declaration.
Unlike my home country in which I’m a resident, I agree with the UN’s declaration that water is a basic human right. Why? Because, as I’ve stated here and is easy to find elsewhere, clean water is essential to a continued healthy life. I may be safeguarded for now living in the United States as part of a middle-class family and currently attending Saint John’s University (a private university in Minnesota), but even if I were guaranteed that privilege as a right, I’m worried for those many for whom it isn’t. Yes, the UN’s declaration should make some positive changes, but with the US in disagreement you may find that actually working towards this goal is harder.
Further, I fear that one of the reasons the United States may be objecting to this declaration is that we don’t have the worst immediate clean water situation. That is an oversight because even putting the individuals of, say, Africa aside, you still have the global nature of this issue. That, the United States would be crazy to deny that it is connected to.
The United States is not away from the realities of polluted water. We share oceans with other countries, and together are responsible for the pollution in those oceans that have caused death and disease along costal waters which have in turn cost the global economy $12.8 billion dollars a year. Further, 40% of America’s rivers and 46% of America’s lakes are too polluted for aquatic life. These statistics aren’t surprising seeing as 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, storm water, and industrial waste are poured into those rivers and lakes.
Clean water is one of the largest global issues right now, and by far not just because of how many people lack access to it, but also because of the environmental and sustainability implications. We think of international conflicts and war as important issues of our day, but so is clean water.
Okay, I’ve probably scared you a bit with all these facts and implications. So you’re probably asking what can you do about it? Sadly there isn’t much. One option is informing your social circles about this issue, another would be to sign a petition supporting the work the UN is doing on this issue. There are countless other ways to help, so if you’re interested and/ or worried about this issue then I urge you to do at least one small thing today.
This blog post is part of Blog Action Day 2010: Water.