“Filthy Water Cannot be Washed”

by Jenna Bhaloo on February 20, 2014

 “Filthy Water Cannot be Washed” –A West African Proverb

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            The round trip distance from Allston to the North End is approximately nine miles, or just over three hours by foot; imagine walking this route every day with a heavy container atop your head to fetch water for your family of six. This container you use to collect the water, also known as a jerry can, can weigh up to 40 pounds when full (Poverty and Water in Africa, 2014). You make this journey in order to survive: so that you can cook food for your children and husband, so that you and your family can bathe and maintain proper hygiene, so that you can clean the dirt floors in your house, and most importantly, so that you and your family have water to drink.

        This is a common issue that I’m sure we have all heard about. In many developing nations, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa where 40% of the population lacks access to local safe drinking water, families must deal with the issue of water scarcity on a day-to-day basis (United Nations Millennium Development Goals).Water is “an indispensable element to life” (Ona, 2013) and unfortunately, is not a renewable resource. The United Nations understands the severity of this issue and has dedicated one of their missions to reducing the number of people without accessible safe and clean water by half (United Nations Millennium Development Goals). Even though this target was achieved five years in advance of the deadline, the number of people who remain without access to improved sources of drinking water has soared past 768 million (United Nations Millennium Development Goals). Despite the improvements in providing access to water, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals estimates that an addition 2.5 billion people are still in need of improved sanitation facilities (United Nations Millennium Development Goals).

   Not having access to clean water and sanitation perpetuates the seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty by worsening the health of individuals, which therefore negatively impacts the levels of educational attainment, especially in children. (Why Water – Access to clean, safe water in Africa, 2014). The Water Project, a non-profit organization that provides sustainable “water projects” in Sub-Saharan Africa, discusses the impact of how the lack of access to clean water leads to poorer health which in turn leads to poor productivity (Health and Water in Africa, 2014). If a child is sick, due to preventable water-related diseases such as diarrhea or cholera, then they cannot go to school to get an education. As a result, the child’s parents must stay home from work and are not able to earn money for the day. If the child needs medicine, then the family’s income must be spent on purchasing the medicine rather than paying school fees or buying groceries (Health and Water in Africa, 2014). One can see that there is a high cost to pay due to the simple fact that the child consumed water that was not adequately sanitized. If events like this continue to occur, how is a family supposed to escape poverty? With something as simple as access to clean water, families can focus more on earning and providing for their families rather than worrying about how to avoid sickness from water-related matters.

           I think the most important questions regarding this situation are why does water scarcity continue to exist, especially in the developing nations, and what can be done to prevent lack of access to clean water and sanitation? According to the United Nations, there are two main reasons for water scarcity: economic shortage and physical scarcity (International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life,’ 2006). Economic water shortage refers to the inability of a country’s infrastructure to provide and distribute water from major sources, like rivers and lakes; this type of water scarcity “depends on source limitation, poor distribution, the inequality between the rich and the poor, and the lack of governmental control over the fast growing urban population” (Ona, 2013). Physical scarcity refers to lack of water due to the lad, such as in dry, arid climates (International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life,’ 2006).

         I don’t believe just implementing one solution can prevent water scarcity –instead focuses should be placed in building infrastructure such as water irrigation systems and wells in schools and common areas of villages; conserving water by managing demand through long-term water storage facilities; using intermittent supply, where water supplies can be turned on and off for a certain amount of time; and creating behavioral interventions to aid in disinfection of water, such as using purifier systems or even solar disinfection methods (Ona, 2013). While these solutions to water scarcity are certainly not achievable overnight, with the cooperation of both the federal and local governments, community leaders, and villages, the primary goals of water demand management, which are “to contribute to more efficient and equitable provision of water services” can be met (Ona, 2013). A professor of mine once told me that “water is not just a commodity –it also has a social aspect” (Ona 2013). This statement encourages the involvement of communities to aid in the elimination and prevention of water scarcity. Yes, part of the reason water is scarce is due to physical reasons beyond our control; however, the economic reasons for water scarcity are man-made and these can be resolved to ensure that access to clean, safe water is not a privilege, but rather a human right.

Check out this video about The Water Project!

 The Water Project – What We Do

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Google Maps. Retrieved February 4, 2014, from http://maps.google.com

International Decade for Action “Water for Life” 2005-2015. Focus Areas: Water scarcity. (2006). Retrieved February 16, 2014, from http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml

Poverty and Water in Africa. (2014). The Water Project. Retrieved February 5, 2014, from http://thewaterproject.org/poverty.asp

United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Retrieved February 4, 2014, from http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/environ.shtml

Why Water – Access to clean, safe water in Africa. (2014). The Water Project. Retrieved February 4, 2014, from http://thewaterproject.org/why-water.php

Photos received from:

image. Lacy, S. (2010).  A FarmVille that Matters: Charity: Waters Site Raised $3 Million Last Year. Retrieved from: http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/16/a-farmville-that-matters-charitywaters-site-raised-3-million-last-year/

image. Carrying Water. Retrieved from: http://freethoughtblogs.com/taslima/files/2013/03/carrying-water.jpg


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie March 3, 2014 at 10:45 pm

Very well-written and informative. It brings the spotlight back on these struggling communities that have often been forgotten. Great job, Jenna!


Hibba March 3, 2014 at 10:51 pm

The author takes a well rounded approach to a complex problem. Her suggestion of a multifaceted solution beginning with infrastructure development is a very pragmatic and intelligent approach. Overall informative and well written article, well done!


Jameson March 3, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Great Article Jenna!


Neil Desai March 4, 2014 at 12:38 am

Reads more like a white paper than a blog post, very well done!


Brendon B March 4, 2014 at 5:55 am

Very interesting! An informative and educated read.


Laila March 4, 2014 at 10:58 am

great information – makes you feel lucky to live in the USA.


AB March 5, 2014 at 12:33 am

A very thought provoking article on a very basic human need and approaches on solving it. Nice Job!


Linda March 6, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Great article, it’s taught provoking and also a reminder of how good we have it. Keep up the good work.


Amanda March 21, 2014 at 6:52 am

Love the last line: “Yes, part of the reason water is scarce is due to physical reasons beyond our control; however, the economic reasons for water scarcity are man-made and these can be resolved to ensure that access to clean, safe water is not a privilege, but rather a human right.” Such great points, Jenna! Not all articles on the water crisis are moving and factually informative — so well written.
The History of the World in 6 Glasses is a great book for anyone interested in the water crisis to read…it focuses on the cultural significance of different drinks through the ages, then explores the “7th glass” in the epilogue: water. I’m paraphrasing, but the author asserts that political conflict for the next few years or decades will not revolve around material wealth, it will revolve around access to clean water.
Again, great article, Jenna!


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