It's World Water Day: 5 shocking facts about water scarcity that will make you cry a river

Water scarcity
CC BY 3.0 Sustainable sanitation

For most of us, water scarcity and water poverty probably aren't high on our list of things that we regularly think about or take action on (but if they are, good on ya), what with all of our attention being pulled every which way by the news story or Facebook meme or funny video of the day, but those water issues directly affect hundreds of millions of people every day of their life.

Most of us probably have no problem when we want or need water, anytime of day or night, as safe clean water flows right out of our taps with virtually no effort on our part, and we can use it for for drinking, for washing, for watering the garden, at a very low cost to us.

But in many parts of the world, getting enough water to drink everyday may mean walking miles to fetch it, which directly impacts the lives of those people (especially women and children, who are primarily responsible for water collection in developing countries), because it not only takes a huge amount of time (estimated 200 million hours each day, globally), but also takes a physical toll, as the water is often transported on their backs.

To help raise awareness of these very real water issues on World Water Day 2014 (March 22nd), here are five shocking facts about water scarcity.

1. Almost 800 million people lack access to clean safe water every day. That's more than two and a half times the population of the United States, where most of us probably waste more water before noon than those people use in a month.

2. Almost 3 ½ million people die every year because of water and sanitation and hygiene-related causes, and almost all of them (99%) are in the developing world. That's like the population of a city the size of Los Angeles being wiped out each year.

3. Every 21 seconds, another child dies from a water-related illness. Diarrhea, something we don't really consider to be dangerous in the developed world, is actually incredibly deadly, and is the second leading global cause of death for kids under five.

4. More than 1 billion people still practice open defecation every day. In fact, more people have a mobile phone than a toilet. Open defecation is just what it sounds like, which is squatting wherever you can and pooping right on the ground, which can not only pollute the immediate area, but can also contaminate community water supplies. Sanitation and clean water go hand in hand.

5. The average American, taking a 5 minute shower, uses more water than an average person in the slums of a developing country does in a whole day. And to be honest, it seems like a 5 minute shower is probably on the short side for many people, so that's as if we used our entire day's water ration, just to wash our body.

Water poverty and its related issues affect the health, wealth, education, and wellbeing of all of those who live with it every day, so supporting clean water initiatives can make a big difference for many of our fellow Earthlings. But that doesn't always have to be in the form of a monetary donation to a water charity or nonprofit (although those are certainly welcome).

Support for water issues can be as diverse as being an outspoken advocate and sharing water stories via social media, or educating our children about the issues, or volunteering for a water advocacy group. If you're a smartphone user, this water charity initiative dares you to not touch your phone for 10 minutes to fund a day of water, and this one, asks Instagram users to upload and donate a photo of "your water day" (and tag it with #waterday) via the Donate A Photo app to get $1 donated to from Johnson & Johnson.

The theme of this year's World Water Day is Water and Energy, because those two issues are not only closely interlinked, but also interdependent, and addressing them both is the only way forward. To learn more about the relationship between those seemingly disparate issues, watch and share this Water & Energy video playlist:

It's World Water Day: 5 shocking facts about water scarcity that will make you cry a river
If you're reading this, you probably have clean water that runs out of your tap with the twist of a handle. But for almost 800 million people, it's not nearly so simple, and water scarcity is a very real, and very deadly, reality for them.