This morning I woke up feeling really thirsty. You know, that kind of thirst that makes it hard to swallow and your mouth feels all cotton-ball dry. I turned on my kitchen faucet and gulped down two big glasses of water before continuing with my morning routine: I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and took a shower. I then filled my water bottle, watered my plants, and made coffee. I used water to do all of those things.
I often take for granted such easy access to clean, safe, drinking water and forget what a pivotal role it plays in our day-to-day lives. Today, on World Water Day, we recognize that one’s access to clean water should not depend on where they live in the world; it is a basic human right.
According to water.org, 884 million people lack access to clean water around the world – that’s almost three times the population of the United States. But this reality has a particular impact on girls. In one day, women spend 200 million work hours collecting water for their families – this is the equivalent of building 28 empire state buildings every day. This laborious task, among other domestic chores, often falls on the shoulders of young girls. Every hour spent finding clean water, often walking miles and miles for one jug, is one less hour spent in school. Investment in drinking-water and sanitation would result in 272 million more school attendance days a year.
Besides the tragedy of being deprived of clean water, girls are often subjected to sexual violence when travelling long distances alone to fetch water. No access to water also means worse hygiene and sanitation. A lack of sanitation is the world’s number one cause of infection – 2.2 million people die each year from diseases associated with unsanitary conditions. When the task of cleaning bathroom facilities falls on women, they are often the ones getting infected or exposed to such illness.
Even if girls are afforded the opportunity to attend school instead of staying home to fetch water for their families, they are subjected to unbearable conditions. Charity:Water tells the story of one young girl in Bangladesh who would leave school to walk nearly a mile home – just to use the bathroom. Another problem presents itself when girls are experiencing menstruation but do not have separate bathroom facilities – if any facilities at all. Most opt out of school on those days due to shame and discomfort. A survey in Tanzania found that school attendance increased by 12 per cent for girls in homes located 15 minutes or less from a water source than in homes one hour or more away. Attendance rates for boys did not seem to be affected by distance from water sources.
So on this year’s World Water Day, when I pour myself a nice big glass of cool clean water, I recognize that it is not just quenching my thirst. Clean water has afforded me my health, my education, my dignity.