Sunday, March 22, 2009

WATER We Thinking: How can 4,500 children die a day & 50% of girls in developing countries drop-out of school because of unsafe water and sanitation.

"When each of us learns to live without wasting a drop, our planet may have a chance at survival."

Prof Dr. Ahmet Saatci, Vice-Secretary General of the 5th World Water Forum

Flushing toilets and safe water from a running faucet are a BIG DEAL! In honor of World Water Week--March 22-28, 2009, I wanted to write about why we need to pay more attention to water and what you can do to improve access to clean water worldwide.

Most of us go about our daily lives without assessing how lucky we are to have access to these modern day amenities that keep our cities clean, our bodies healthy, and our daily routines quite stress free. Just as we need oxygen to breath, and nutrients to sustain our energy, we need water to live; even with many modern advancements, 40% of the world’s population continues to lack access to safe sources of water. It is estimated by UNICEF that nearly 1.6 million young children die every year due to waterborne illnesses (approximately 4,500 children a day).

Growing up, I was surrounded by the world’s largest source of fresh water---the Great Lakes---a political “ace card” that gives the region a “hand” in the global game of water access. Although I knew that the Great Lakes were a special asset to our region, it was not until I visited Colorado Springs and saw the dried up tributaries of the Colorado River, and recently read that there were “water cops” patrolling outdoor water usage in Las Vegas (World Forum Looks to Replenish Ideas As Era of Abundant Water Dries Up in March, 2009 Edition of The Washington Diplomat), that I reexamined how critical geography and political dynamics were to acquiring access to the luxury of fresh water. It is easy to believe that water is an inherent entitlement for all when you have 24/7 access to potable running water, hot showers, sprinkler systems and indoor plumbing, like we do in the United States. Unfortunately, many around the globe do not.

Over 1 billion people do not have access to water, and even more---2.5 billion people---do not have access to sanitation. Imagine having to walk through the pitch black of night to an outdoor latrine to urinate, or walking 3.728 miles to retrieve 5.2 gallons of fresh water; this is how far the average women or girl in a developing country will travel each day to haul drinking water according to UNICEF. In stark contrast, the average American will consume between 80-100 gallons of water a day---with most of that water wasted when we habitually pull the handle to flush the toilet.

Unequal access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation facilities often has a disproportionate affect on women, as they are most adversely affected: more hours of time spent collecting water equates to less hours available to go to school, resulting in higher rates of illiteracy(nearly 2:1 ratio to men), and more impoverishment than men. A 2009 study released by the Women in Europe for a Common Future on gender and sanitation notes that the “Lack of adequate toilets and hygiene in schools is a key critical barrier to girls’ school attendance and education.” In rural Pakistan, for example, more than 50% of girls drop out of school in grade 2-3 because the schools do not have latrines; the 50% dropout rate for girls is replicated across the board in many developing countries.

At the 5th Annual World Water Forum last week, Turkish President, Abdullah Gul told delegates, "Humanity has entered a new era of challenges. Water is no longer considered to be an issue of the environmentalists as it used to be in the near past. Now it is everybody's concern. In this critical age, water should be a bridging force for the nations of the world." I agree with President Gul, and think that it is time for individuals, and the US government and the international community to devote more attention to this issue. The loss of 4,500 children every day to waterborne illnesses is NOT acceptable, and I’ve included information on how you can take action to bring awareness to the need for clean drinking water and systems for sanitation below.

TAKE ACTION: March 22, 2009 is “World Water Day”. Will you do something to help?
1.) Sign the “Declaration on U.S. Policy and the Global Challenge for Water” to encourage the US to invest $1 billion dollars each year for global water assistance over the next four years. SIGN the Declaration by CLICKING HERE:

2.) Call or Email your Member of Congress and Senators to ask them to join Senator Dick Durbin in supporting the establishment of the Office of Water within the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and bringing clean water to 100 million more people in by 2015. Read Senator Durbin’s Press Release at

3.) Protect Women’s Rights to resources such as clean water and sanitation by asking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support The Conventional on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

SIGN A PETITION to get CEDAW passed in the United States:
CEDAW is the most important legally-binding international instrument for the protection of women’s rights. CEDAW mentions in its article 14(2) (h), that States parties shall ensure women “the right to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communication.”

Although President Carter signed the CEDAW in 1970, the United States Congress has yet to approve the provisions of the CEDAW, even though 185 other countries have already ratified the bill. Stand up for women’s equality by supporting CEDAW today.
More about the UN CEDAW:

LEARN MORE: Visit the websites of organizations working to ensure gender equality in access to fresh water and sanitation.
• Gender and Water
• Women in Europe for a Common
• Interagency Task Force on Gender and Water (UN)
• Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)
• Women’s Environment and Development
• International Water and Sanitation Centre(IRC)
• UNICEF on Water, Sanitation & Hygiene--
• Water Advocates:

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