March 22, 2012
By Matt Palmer
World Water Day. So this morning, I had my usual shower, brushed teeth, made breakfast for myself and my sons (porridge, one scrambled egg, smoothee, coffee), later had another coffee while writing, and now drinking water. I hesitate to think how much water that adds up to, but if you read the above article with water stats from the United Nations, you would likely be as shocked as I was to see how much water it takes to make food, both to grow it and then cook it. Staggering.
Years ago I used to let the water run while I brushed my teeth. Hopefully people do not still do this! This one-act seems small, but consider this: in November 2006, I traveled to the remote village of Oldeani in Western Tanzania as part of a medical mission with the Tidlund Foundation. With our group was a doctor, and three nurses, Mary Tidlund, an administrator from the foundation, and myself. We were joined in the village by an American Dr Frank Artess from Fame Africa who was in the process of setting up a clinic in nearby Karatu.
The clinic began with seeing students from the local school. While the doctors and nurses examined the children, many whom had never seen a doctor before, myself and Carolyn, the administrator from the foundation, began working with kids in groups, teaching them the importance of hand washing after going to the bathroom, and how to brush their teeth. They spoke little English, so our sessions were very animated to make it fun, and then a translator did the rest. It was a great experience.
I could not help wonder though, if the whole process was futile because none of the kids came from homes that had any access to water, something necessary to be able to wash your hands and brush your teeth. The process of fetching water was a difficult one for all the families. So I wondered, if say, a family was already having to carrying buckets of water for cooking, would they understand the importance of portioning out some of that water for necessary hygiene? Would that extra water use increase the daily water fetching burden, resulting in more girls missing school?
Clearly the parents were complaining of issues that were hygiene related, so helping them to see the connection was vitally important. Diarrhea was an issue for so many kids, something that could be solved for the most part with better hygiene. Health outcomes impact so many things in our daily lives, and water plays a critical role.
Taking stock of our own daily water use will not directly impact water use or availability to the vulnerable in the developing world, or will it? Increasing education around water issues has societal value beyond measure. It does not mean we all have to understand the complexities of hydrological cycles, but wasting less food, turning off taps are concrete measures that have impact. Washing your car less, foregoing watering your lawn every day are concrete steps in conservation. Water, food and energy form a great nexus, and how we deal with the interconnectedness of these issues can transform lives around the world.