“Drink more water” is a prescription that for too many people around the world is easier said than done. As it stands, one in ten people (663 million people - twice the population of the United States) are currently living without access to safe water. Cited by the World Economic Forum as being the #1 global risk to society in terms of devastation and impact, this water crisis stands in the way of the health, safety and economic empowerment of people in both developing countries and first world nations.
Access to clean water is a basic human right, yet millions of people are still walking miles to collect from their nearest water source, sharing unprotected wells with livestock, and paying 5 to 10 times more for water than their higher-income counterparts. Humans being 65 percent water, we can do so much better.
March 22 was World Water Day, a global initiative started by the United Nations to recognize the importance of water conservation and improving access to freshwater around the globe. World Water Day may be one day out of the year, but taking the time to reflect on the delicacy of our limited natural resources and the impact we have on the ecosystems around us have the chance to make long-lasting impacts that we can carry forward.
It is important to remember that access to safe, potable water is as much a domestic issue as it is an international one. In Northern Kenora in Ontario, the provincial government just recently committed $85 million to clean up mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows First Nation territory’s nearby Wabigoon River. During the 1960s and early '70s, the chemical plant at the Reed Paper mill upstream dumped 9,000 kilograms of mercury into the waterway, resulting in more than 90 per cent of the population in the communities today showing signs of mercury poisoning; they worry not only that humans, the river and the fish are sick, but that wildlife are also sick and disappearing.
Ensuring the safety of water requires the allocation of resources needed to fund the work, as well as foster accountability and progress reporting. Like all matters of infrastructure, limitations come down to be a matter of economics, but as said by former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew, "The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations." Governments can demonstrate vigilance and responsibility to its constituents by regulating behavior and prevent these crises from happening at home.
Companies and major brands are taking responsibility for the impacts their products have on the sustainability of water sources. PUR, the water filtration brand, for example, is solving for their difficult-to-recycle product and packaging waste through the free PUR® Recycling Program in both the United States and Canada. Recycling prevents these waste streams from ending up in waterways and landfills, and reduces demand for virgin raw materials that often require significant quantities of water to extract from the Earth.
Using EPA data and local water quality reports, PUR also provides a resource, Know Your Water, that resident can use to find out which contaminants have been most recently reported in their area within the past 3 years. Offsetting the demand for bottled water, PUR products deliver the equivalent of up to 3,000 16.9 oz. plastic bottles of water in one year.
Rosedale Public School in Sarnia, Ontario is a public elementary on a mission to donate fresh water to people in developing countries, raising the funds through TerraCycle’s free recycling programs. For every unit of waste collected for recycling, participants earn points that may be redeemed as a donation of clean water to a person in need, a water container for a family or safe drinking water for students.
One teacher says the school as a whole is very concerned about recycling plastic and they are banning balloon releases and straws in order to protect the world’s our oceans, lakes and water ways. Realizing that consumers waste a great deal of water and are a part of the world’s plastic problem, her class is actively learning about recycling plastics, conserving energy and caring for the earth, including creatures and humans who are not as fortunate.
This year, find your connection to the global water crisis and realize your potential as a steward for the community. Donate the resources you can, be it funds, supplies (i.e. filtered water tanks or bottles, PUR filters) or, most effectively, your time, to organizations and governmental entities in a position to create and support infrastructures that improve clean water access. As the world population continues to grow, safe water remains the top issue affecting millions, and individuals have the access to programs that can translate intentions into effects year-round.