Count the people you see today with that number - one in eight - in mind. The eighth person you passed on the street on the way to work? She can't hop in the shower to warm up first thing on a crisp fall morning. The sixteenth car you passed on your way home? The driver can't splash cool water on his face to wash off the sweat of a long hike under a hot sun. The twenty-fourth person you pushed your cart past in the grocery store yesterday evening? Her kids are always thirsty, because she has to use what little water she has, dirty as it is, to cook enough food to keep them from starvation.
Meanwhile, every hamburger we eat is the result of hundreds of liters of water - for just one meal. (The estimates on the water used during the production of a single hamburger vary widely, ranging from a little more than 100 liters all the way up to 2,400 liters, or about 27-634 U.S. gallons.) Have an iPhone? Every charge uses half a liter of water's worth of electricity. (And there's probably an app for that.) In 2010, 2.5 billion people don't have access to a toilet - and 1.2 billion don't have any bathroom facilities at all - but only about 1 billion people worldwide don't have a cell phone.
I'm not saying that we should give up our showers and our filtered water and our favorite meals in a fit of guilt. That wouldn't do anyone much good. What I am saying is that not enough of us are aware that there's a global water crisis - and that needs to change.
The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing it, and that's what we need to do. We need to think about water the way we think about what we're going to have for dinner, or what one thing we really want to do tomorrow - it needs to be something that's always there, at the back of our minds. That way, when you're washing dishes, shutting off the tap in between rinsing plates will become a habit, if it isn't already. So will waiting until you have a full load to do the laundry, taking shorter showers and turning off the water when you brush your teeth. You might mention to your neighbor that the barrel in your backyard is for collecting rainwater to use for watering your garden so that you can donate your water bill savings to an organization that provides clean water to communities in Africa. He might think, "Wow, that's a great idea," and do the same. Gradually, the message will get out: water is precious and scarce, and we need to help more people gain access to what they need to survive.
So here's what I want you to join me in doing today:
- Visit the Blog Action Day website. Read up on water - its scarcity, the hardships people experience trying to get it and ways to start solving the problem. Think about what you read, and share it with a few people you talk to today. (The statistic that touched me most? 42,000 people die every week - 38,000 of them children under five - from not enough water, unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions. That adds up to more people than are killed by violence, including war, every year.)
- Monitor your water usage. Be conscious about reducing the water waste in your home, even just by turning the tap off a few seconds faster every time you use it. A great idea my brother's family uses is saving the water from my niece's baths to water their yard.
- Lend a hand. Fortunately, there are some fantastic organizations working globally to combat this problem and making some real progress, at least one of which I've written about on this blog before. charity: water, Ryan's Well Foundation and Water.org make it their business to raise awareness and work to get clean water to the people who need it most. As you think about where you might make donations at the end of this year, a popular time for charitable giving, consider them.
This post was written as part of Change.org's Blog Action Day 2010. There are more than 5,016 blogs in 137 countries participating right now - to add yours, click here. Blog Action Day 2010 is also taking place on Twitter, using hashtag #BAD10. To read a travel-centric post about the water crisis and how travelers can help, visit Diary of a Wandering Student.