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Global Water Crisis: The Quest for a Basic Human Right

¬† ¬†I find it extremely interesting that in all of the years this course has been taught, most students admit that they have never really thought about water and the global lack of it. I don’t know if it is the classes I take (especially SPN 352:Latin America at the Crossroads, a favorite of mine), the interests I have, my own experiences, or a combination of those elements (no pun intended), but I have thought about water for as long as I can remember.

¬† ¬†Of course, from a young age, we are taught that water is a basic need, that humans are composed almost entirely of water, and that the earth is also almost all water. What we are not taught however, is that across the globe, millions of people do not have access to water, are getting sick from the water they do have, and that most of ¬†the water on earth—at least 97%, according to¬†Blue Gold: World Water Wars—is saltwater and therefore, not safe for human consumption.¬†

¬† ¬†Seeing as how around 72% of the human body is water, it is safe to say that all existence comes from water and in turn, water is essential to life. In the¬†2006¬†Human Development Report,¬†it is stated that according to the Koran, “By means of water…we give life to everything…People need water as surely as they need oxygen: without it life could not exist,” (p 2). This is also proven to be true based on the evidence that we have discovered about the earliest human civilizations; the Mesopotamians built their civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Fertile Crescent. The Egyptians built their civilization along the Nile and the ancient Romans implemented an aqueduct system (World Water Wars).¬†

Unfortunately however, our world today has become greedy and ignorant to this basic need, which is clearly defined in the Universal Declaration of HUman Rights. With the 3% of freshwater availabe, almost all of it is now too polluted for huan consumption, a problem of our own creation. According to UNICEF’s film¬†World Water Day: Bringing Safe Water into Focus,¬†only 1% of earth’s water is safe for humans. We are slowly killing ourselves and it is time that we stand up and do something about it. As children, we learned that water is a renewable resource and that the water we drink today has been around since the time of the dinosaurs and that it will never run out. Yet, we have caused so much pollution to our waters that we are essentially running out of water. This issue is formally known as the Global Water Crisis. “This crisis claims more lives through disease than any way claims through guns,” yet “unlike wars and natural disasters, [it] does not make media headlines,” (HDR p. 1). That in and of itself is a major problem. As a “life or death,” situation, the fact that we are running out water which is needed for survival, is the most critical issue surrounding water today.¬†

¬† ¬†We have always been taught to conserve water by taking shorter showers and turning off the faucet when brushing our teeth, much like shutting off lights when it is unnecessary for them to be on, in order to conserve energy. Clearly, while it may be doing some good locally and for your bills, this is not working as a global solution. Finally beginning to take measures, (literally and figuratively), human rights organizations like UNICEF, are beginning to step in. They have created a product identified as HWTS which purifies water to make it drinkable. This product is a powder that is put into unsafe water and clarifies it, killing pathogens and bacteria to make it safe for human consumption. UNICEF targets their advertising and sharing of this product directly at women, because they are seen as the homemakers and caregivers, and are usually the ones who must relinquish their education and jobs in order to retrieve the water. They feel that by using such a product, they are keeping the system in place for villagers, as “local products for local people,” (World Water Day). Corporate America on the other hand, is taking advantage of every opportunity as usual, and using a process known as “desalination,” in which salt water is being turned into fresh water that is safe for humans. However, this is using energy that we are already lacking and in turn adding to another crisis. The best option I have come across is what is known as Project Blue Alternative.¬†

   Project Blue Alternative is the most natual way to replenish our freshwater supply. As our communities, especially urban ones, have been built up over time, there is less and less natural groundcover available to soak up water when it rains, as water cannot penetrate through these concrete jungles. If we implement the process required to carry out Project Blue Alternative, we would dig holes and make water catches to keep the water where it should be in the ground, instead of causing runoff, replenishing ground water systems which in turn allows plants to grow and clouds to form, giving us more oxygen and creating more rain. (World Water Wars)

¬† ¬†Another major problem adding to the life or death situation of the Global Water Crisis is who has the access to safe water and who doesn’t. Sadly, like almost all aspects of life these days, the right to water is being trumped by who has money and who doesn’t, and is dependent upon who can afford this basic right. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone is supposed to be ensured at least 20 liters of clean water each day,the minimum requirement to meet basic needs, (HDR p 4). Clearly, this is not happening and human rights are being pushed aside.¬†

   The Human Development Report states on page 7,

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†The crisis in water and sanitation is—above all—a crisis for the poor. Almost two in three

                                   people lacking access to clean water survive on less than $2 a day, with one in three

                                   living on less than $1 a day. More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less 

                                   than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day.

¬† Here in The United States of America, where we spend $6 on a cup of coffee and $8 for lunch, those numbers sound unbelievable. We take water for granted, use it to water our lawns, take 40 minute showers, drink multiple bottles a day, bathe our pets, swim in it in pools full, and even dump it on ourselves to get donations (ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, anyone?). However, in developing countries, finding even one glass of water that is not contaminated by Cholera can prove to be nearly impossible. I found it interesting that the¬†Human Development Report¬†says that “most people without clean water live in Asia,” (p 5). Based on the commercials on television, you know, the ones that show the children in developing countries whose bones show through their skin, the ones they want us to sponsor, I would have thought that the most people without clean water would be in Africa and South America. Asia, being the heart of production and industry in the world,¬†I think of as more closely related to the USA. Obviously, this is not the case.¬†

¬† ¬†Also as far as money is concerned, corporations are taking ownership over water and making it nearly impossible for the poor to get it. There was one story specifically related to this in the¬†World Water Wars¬†video that broke my heart. The story went something like this: In Africa, water is so costly and is paid for by putting tokens (coins) in a meter. Whoever is employed determines when water can be used for wash etc. During the day, many adults leave for work and take their coins with them, while children are left at home and are therefore without water. One mother left her two daughters home without coins while she went to work. Their shack caught fire but they had no water to put the fire out. Neighbors in their village witnessed it, but did not help because if they used their coins they would not have enough water for their own families. When the mother returned from work that day, she discovered that not only had her home been burnt to the ground, but also that her two young daughters died inside of it. We need to manage to find a way to stop things like this from happening. I don’t care what country it is or what the conditions are there. It is 2014 and by now our global community should be strong enough to keep these situations from occurring.¬†

¬† ¬†Last January, I participated in a Service Learning project in Nicaragua. During the trip, we stayed in different regions: San Ramon, Matagalpa, the rainforest and Coffee country, where we traveled to La Corona, El Roblar, and some other barrios, Leon, the city, where we went into the village of Subtiava to help, and Las Penitas, where the beaches are. Water was an instant theme, as we discovered that there was no hot water and our showers were freezing cold. We had to adapt quickly in the 90 degree plus heat. We used many different bathrooms which each had their own way of doing things. We were informed that we could not flush the toilets unless we did “number two,” because otherwise they would not flush again for a bit after, and they use too much water. Our showers were short, as they needed to be anyway with 15 girls and two showers! On the woman’s coffee cooperative in El Roblar, we used a bathroom in someone’s home. There was no sink with running water. In Subtiava, I helped make tortillas with the local tortilla maker, and to wash my hands the sink was divided in two. The water was put in a bowl and slowly poured over my hands, so that none was wasted by the faucet. At the public school in Subtiava, we installed water fountains, the first of their kind in the area. To Americans, they look more like spigots than drinking fountains. As far as sanitation is concerned, the sewage system is not underground, but rather flows into the dirt streets, into troughs that are dug out. To get around, you must step or jump over these troughs. In the UNICEF article “Nicaragua: Being Dirty Had to End,” it is described how ENACAL installed western toilets and sinks but how many people were reluctant to use them at first. I believe this is great progress, but that the benefits of keeping themselves and their families safe and healthy must be greatly addressed and stressed. How to use them properly and keeping them clean is important as well. I would love to see things like this implemented around the rest of Nicaragua, especially Subtiava, and in other developing countries as well. If we could get more freshwater into communities around the globe and keep it safe for human consumption, we would hear less things like what the ten year old Yeni Bazan, from Bolivia is quoted as saying in the¬†Human Development Report,¬†”Of course I wish I were in school. I want to learn to read and write…But how can I? My mother needs me to get water.” Water is more than just the building block of our world, it is what keeps the world going, so in order to keep the human race alive, we need to reevaluate ourselves and what we can do as a whole, in order to save it.¬†

  At home, my mother boils our tap water before we use it. Even before that, we must let the water run for a minute or two before collecting it, because otherwise it tastes like chemicals. This should not be happening here in a country like this one, nevermind across the rest of the globe. I found it interesting in the end of the World Water Wars film when they said to know the name of your watershed, where your wastewater goes, and where your drinking water comes from. I have never really thought about these things before but now I want to find out this information and get to the bottom of why our drinking water tastes like chemicals.

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