The Burden of Unsafe and Unaccessible Water...
The Basics - For many inhabitants of earth, water is scarce. In fact, less than 1% of the world's fresh water supply is readily accessible for human use. It seems impossible since our oceans, streams, and rivers are so vast and looking at earth it appears more blue than green. But in fact, if a bucket of water were to represent all the water in the world, then one tiny droplet on the tip of your finger would equate all the water that is actually usable to us. That's because 97.5% of all water on earth is saltwater and not suitable for drinking or even irrigating our crops. The remaining 2.5% of earth's water is fresh water. However, when you break it down, majority of that figure is actually trapped water. With 69.5% of all fresh water being frozen in glaciers and another 30.1% that is kept below the surface of earth in deep aquifers, we are only left with a mere .04% of fresh water on the surface and atmosphere of earth. Of this amount, some is in the moisture of soil, in plants, or in the air humidity and some is in streams, rivers, and wetlands for humans and animals to use. This is why, for nearly a billion people on our planet, water is anything but abundant. It may be within sight, but just simply isn't suitable for them. It may be below shallow ground cover, but they lack the financial resources and technology to access it. For others, they may live near fresh spring fed water, but it is owned by major corporations that bottle the water for other countries more fortunate. The truth is, water is a luxury item most families simply cannot afford.
Fresh Water - "Fresh water" doesn't describe the same pristine water you get in a bottle or from the tap. When found on location it is rarely ever clear, clean, or safe. Furthermore, it is often used by more than just humans. Yet this water must serve multiple purposes. It must be our bath water, laundry water, dish water, and drinking water. For 884 million people in the world it requires great effort to gather. In fact, it is estimated that in the continent of Africa alone, 40 billion hours of labor are spent every year collecting and hauling water. Fresh water sources aren't always running water like streams either. Rather, they are often stagnant sources, either natural ponds or man-made holes. Such locations often attract mosquitoes which carry malaria. Every year, 250 million cases of malaria are reported, resulting in nearly 1 million deaths.
The Weight of Water - The average roundtrip distance to collect water is 4 - 6 miles and one typically cannot gather all the water they need in a single trip. A second trip is often required to get the 5 gallons of water a family must have for survival. Since water weighs 8 lbs per gallon, that's a minimum of 40 lbs of weight carried each day. Most often, young girls, women, and children shoulder this responsibility. Nearly half of their day is spent carrying water on their head, back, or if they are extremely lucky, tied to their bicycle or pushed by wheelbarrow. When carried by hand, they can easily burn 1,000 calories or more.
Limiting the Future - Collecting and carrying water robs women and children of their time and limits their ability to gain knowledge and skills through education. Millions of girls do not attend school at all or attend school with infrequency because they are bogged down with the chore of hauling water for their families. Of all the primary school-aged girls worldwide who are not enrolled in school, 41% live in South Asia and 35 percent reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mothers also make the daily treks with their children and often lose even countless more hours of productivity due to the ongoing need to care for sick children. Unfortunately, roughly 90% of all illnesses these mothers are tending to occur from bacteria and pollutants in the water that they have no other choice but to bring home to their families. Clinics are few and far between in impoversihed communities. Lines are often very long, and water illnesses are very quick to overtake their victims. Diseases like Cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, malaria, schistosomiasis... are all deadly diseases in developing nations. Children under the age of 5 are most often the victims of water-related deaths because their immune systems are not as developed. Most mothers will lose one or more children to a sickness caused by lack of safe water and improved sanitation. In fact, every 15 seconds a child dies from a water-related illness.
* Photos provided by Pamela Crane, Barak Bruerd, Terry Ohmart, and Tam Faller.