The spring season is a time of change and provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the problems humans are facing around the world and the actions we can take to improve the situation. As we think about what we can do to help those who are suffering from the spring famine in the Sahel region of Africa, it is also a time to reflect on other water related problems around the globe. The global water crisis impacts billons of men, women and children every day and there are actions we can take to help these individuals.
Global Water Crisis Basics
A child dies every 8 minutes because of diseases borne in dirty drinking water. More people die from dirty water than from all wars and all forms of violence. In fact the continuing disparity in access water access costs the Global Economy way more than it would cost to correct that imbalance, according to the MDG’s 2006 report:
The additional costs of achieving the Millennium Development Goal on the basis of the lowest-cost, sustainable technology option amount to about $10 billion a year. Closing the gap between current
trends and target trends for achieving the Millennium Development Goal for water and sanitation would result in:
• Some 203,000 fewer child deaths in 2015
and more than 1 million children’s lives
saved over the next decade.
• An additional 272 million days gained in
school attendance as a result of reduced episodes
of diarrhoea alone.
• Total economic benefits of about $38 billion
annually. The benefits for Sub-Saharan
about $15 billion—would represent
60% of its 2003 aid flows. Gains for South
Asia would represent almost $6 billion.
Can the world afford to meet the costs of accelerated progress towards water and sanitation
provision? The more appropriate question is: can the world afford not to make the
investments?(pg. 8 of 2006 Human Development Report)
Reflecting on the global water crisis requires understanding what it is and the basics of how it is possible to help. The global water crisis refers to the inability for entire communities to find clean water sources.
Fresh water is a precious commodity around the world. While water is a renewable resource, finding clean water is a challenge in many areas of the world. Many global locations have seen the growth of pollution, bacteria, parasites and viruses in the water, which makes it unsafe to drink.
The result of the global water crisis is that families and communities are faced with a specific dilemma: drink dirty and unhealthy water or avoid drinking water and risk death due to severe dehydration. Unclean water sources kill more individuals than the worst wars, famines and other acts of violence put together. A child dies every eight minutes due to illnesses caused by drinking water that is not clean.
The Millennium Development Goals and Progress
The Millennium Development Goals were developed in the 1990s by the United Nations. The goals were designed to help improve the situation around the world as it relates to sanitation, clean water sources, poverty and hunger. The original goals were designed to work on a roadmap toward providing clean water sources to communities and countries that are struggling with clean water solutions.
While the goal of providing clean water is designed to help billions of individuals, it is still years away from being completely accomplished. Progress has been made with the addition of sand water filters in regions of Africa that are especially prone to unclean water, but many areas are still struggling with a lack of clean water in the area.
Water Filters and Cleaning Water
In the United States, clean water is not a problem. Beyond often having access to tap-water that is safe, Americans in a number of methods of water filtration, including three main strategies:
- Brita Pitchers-While American and Canadian tap water generally would pass the minimum bar for clean, safe water, there are often quite a few undesirable impurities—from chlorine to lead, to trace pharmaceuticals deposited in the water like Acetaminophen, Carbamazepine, Estradiol, Naproxen, and Progesterone.
- Refrigerator water filters-From Kenmore, to Whirlpool, to Samsung there is a wide spectrum of refrigerator water filters to choose from, but they all have essentially the same effect: clean water in virtually unlimited quantities. The disadvantage of the Brita is that you only get about a gallon of clean, crisp, cold water. From refrigerator water filters you could technically get hundreds of gallons. The filters do have to be changed occasionally have to be changed out, but that process can be easy and cheap if you buy Swift Green Replacement filters (such as the UKF8001, for example).
- Faucet Filtration-Faucet filtration is another popular solution, but usually needs to be combined with fridge filtration (for ice cubes to cool the water), and it often requires a certain kind of faucet.
- Bottled Water: The Expensive Solution-The most expensive and wasteful solution which Americans nevertheless often throw themselves at is bottled water. Bottled water is about 1000 times as expensive as filtered water (literally, that is not an exaggeration), and it creates about 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year. For more information on why Bottled Water is a terrible idea, check out the Sierra Club’s fact sheet on it.
- Exotic solutions- I would include reverse osmosis, and ionization (or more properly, ‘de-ionization’) under the category of ‘exotic.’
With one or the other of these that purify and clean the water of all bacteria, viruses, dirt and potential parasites, American citizens almost always have clean water available.
But if you think about it, most people living in the slums of Nairobi(Kenya), Lagos (Nigeria), or Delhi(India) don’t have refrigerators or running water in their home—this is often compounded by the fact that they don’t have infrastructure for electricity (for refrigerators) or public drinking water systems to pipe water to their living spaces (for faucets). So these solutions are a moot point for much of the developing world.
Slow sand filters, and other innovations are helping to close that gap without requiring the millions and billions and the administrative nightmare that it would be to build the necessary infrastructure that would provide Western style solutions.
Other areas of the world are often struggling with clean water and have limited filtering options. The most common filters in areas like Africa are sand water filters. These filters are simple and can help improve water quality without requiring a high cost.
Helping With the Crisis
The goal of providing clean water around the world is possible with an appropriate budget. It is estimated that it will cost around 9 billion US dollars to provide clean water around the world.
That number might seem large, but when it is compared to the estimated $465 billion Americans spend on Christmas in a single year, the figure is actually a small price. In fact, it will cost roughly ten times less to provide fresh, clean water than it will cost to allow the health problems associated with unsafe drinking water to continue.
It is possible to help with the global water crisis. Families or individuals who are interested in helping ensure others have clean water can make helpful donations. Providing slow sand water filters, much needed money or other types of water filters that will help communities around the world is a useful way to combat this water crisis.