This post originally appeared on Redhill Church blog. Information current as of March 2012.
In case you missed it, Wednesday 22 March was World Water Day. World Water Day is promoted by the UN annually to raise awareness for water-related issues and promote ways that we can help bring clean, safe water to every family and community throughout the world.
If you did miss it, it’s no surprise. In fact, it illustrates a good point. For most of us reading this, water isn’t really an ‘issue’ that we need to spend a day thinking about. Water is readily available pretty much any time we want it. We might whinge occasionally about the taste of water in different cities (who hasn’t heard people complain about ‘Canberra water’ or ‘Sydney water’ or ‘London water’?). We might lament that we don’t drink enough water to effectively cleanse our delicate digestive systems. We might stand in front of the drinks fridge contemplating whether Mount Franklin water is really from Mount Franklin, and if we carry Coles-branded water will people think we’re cheap?
For some Australians, water is more of a serious concern. Anyone who works on the land has probably at some stage felt the devastating effects of drought. Lack of rain (or sometimes too much of it) can wipe out years of potential income, leaving families struggling financially and emotionally. Water is an issue for Australians too. But when it comes to the bare basics of having regular access to clean drinking water, we are still for the most part a ‘lucky country’.
For many in the world however, clean water is definitely not ‘on tap’.
Around 800 million people (roughly one in eight people) worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water. One of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets was to see 88% of the world’s population using improved drinking water sources. Amazingly, this target has now been met! But despite this achievement, there is still much to be done.
So what’s the problem?
To learn more, I spoke to Rajesh Pasupuleti, Advisor on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for World Vision Australia. Prior to working for World Vision, Rajesh worked for the United Nations and has fifteen years experience working with water and sanitation issues. Rajesh explained some of the reasons why lack of clean drinking water has serious implications for families and communities.
“Eighty-eight percent of diseases worldwide are water-borne, and are preventable if clean drinking water is available,” says Rajesh. “It’s estimated that 4000 children are dying each day from these diseases.”
In addition to children, women are also a group who are particularly disadvantaged by lack of access to clean water. Says Rajesh, “Over seventy percent of the time it is women whose role it is to fetch water. If the water source is not near their home, they are more prone to rape.” This also has implications on a young girl’s education. “The need to travel to fetch water also results in under-attendance at school,” says Rajesh.
Where is this happening?
While this is a worldwide issue, World Vision is currently focusing on sub-Saharan Africa in particular. In Latin America, the Caribbean, North Africa and large parts of Asia, at least 90% of people have access to improved water sources, compared to only 61% of people in sub-Saharan Africa. “Forty percent of those who lack access to improved water and sanitation globally live in sub-Saharan Africa”, says Rajesh.
So what can be done?
Political commitment is required to see more communities gain access to safe drinking water, and to maintain access for those that already do. It is estimated that it will take a $23 billion investment worldwide per year to achieve this, at least for the next 20 years. So far, only $16 billion has been committed. “We still need seven billion,” says Rajesh, “which is only one tenth of what Europeans spend on alcoholic beverages each year. Countries are spending more than this on weapons.”
As for Australia, our government-funded aid for water and sanitation has improved. Says Rajesh, “Until recently, Australia spent 1.5% of its aid money on water and sanitation issues. Now it is three percent.” This compares to around 13% of aid money spent on health and around 17% of aid money spent on education. While health and education are no doubt worthy of aid dollars, Rajesh maintains that funding improved water and sanitation is vital. “Funding for water, sanitation and hygiene projects are a very effective use of aid dollars,” says Rajesh. “There is a high economic return on our investment, and a strong demand worldwide for water, sanitation and hygiene projects; they are often considered the number one priority.”
Do something today!
It’s not only governments that can make a difference. Ordinary people like us can contribute. “Australians are very generous,” says Rajesh, “In 2009 over 1 million Australians were regular donors to Australian development non-government organizations, with community donations totalling over $800 million.”
If you want to see more people gain access to improved water and sanitation, check out these opportunities from World Vision Australia:
By sponsoring a child, you are supporting their whole community. Your money will not only support improved water and sanitation, but also health, education, food and vocational training to generate incomes.
Stuck for what to buy a friend or family member for their birthday, or getting super-organised for Christmas? Consider buying them a World Vision Gift! You can improve a community’s drinking water supply, help a school get some toilets, or pool your resources with friends to raise money to provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene training for a whole community!
Want to give but can’t decide how? Just send some money and let World Vision decide how to use it for the best possible impact!
And of course there are other organisations doing great work on this issue too. Check out these links for starters…