With nearly three-quarters of the earth covered in water, it would seem unlikely that there is water scarcity at all. However, water scarcity does not have as much to do with the availability of "any" water as it does with the availability of potable, or usable, water. With worldwide water predominantly utilized for corporate consumption and less than 1% of available water from fresh water sources (such as snowcaps or glaciers), according to the CDC, over 1 billion people are currently forced to use water from hazardous resources for cooking, bathing and consumption. Approximately half of this vulnerable population are children.
Searching for potable water sources is a daily chore for over 2 billion women and children across the globe, who spend many hours each day hauling water from pumps and basins to their homes. In what is sometimes described as a "six hour journey," this population, predominantly girls, spend their day fetching water instead of attending school or playing with siblings or friends.
In addition, children who are consistently exposed to hazardous, unpotable water or exposed to pumps or water sources that have been contaminated by water-borne bacteria, contract diseases such as cholera and they are often affected by life-threatening diarrhea from parasites in unclean water.
Not only does the work of transporting water inhibit a child's ability to access education, but it is also "back-breaking" work. With endless household chores such as caring for livestock, siblings, washing, cooking, cleaning and storing, the need for obtaining water never ends, from morning to night, every day. The heavy water, fetched in containers that vary in size, is carried on a child's head for many miles, and with children carrying an average of one gallon or more, this water plus the container can weigh up to 10 pounds or more, which can also cause physical damage to a child's body. The older the child, the more water they typically carry, with adolescent girls and women carrying up to 45 pounds of water (roughly the weight of a kindergartner) on their head.
Lack of sanitation and clean water often means that girls who are fortunate to be in school must often stop their education at puberty because of lack of proper resources during menstruation. Lack of sanitary facilities in schools for this purpose, and lack of any sanitary facilities along water ways means that children expose themselves to human waste on a daily basis, whether relieving themselves while traveling or wading in waters with high coliform levels.
Nonetheless, disease, lack of education and deformities are not the only risk of fetching water for these children, and something infinitely horrifying often awaits especially young girls along miles-long travel, which journey is typically alone and without adult accompaniment or any means of defense. Aside from risk of attack by vicious animals, such as crocodile and large cats that live along the water route, children are often assaulted, raped and abducted.
Alternatively, a child's access to clean, potable water near or in their home, not only brings real hope to a child who may, with more readily-available water, be able to attend school but gives them a chance to thrive. The lifeline of safe, attainable water eliminates health risk due to infection and heavy physical labor, but it can also mean saving a child from terrorizing rape and potentially deadly sexual assault.
The United Nations, UNICEF and many secular and non-secular public/private partnerships, such as international NGOs and private missionaries, are annually working to help combat issues of gender and age inequality. They are striving to hear the voices of these children responsible for collecting water through programs such as the UN Millennium Goals and the UNICEF Tap Project. In addition, CARE's "I Am Powerful" campaign, has a water component aimed at teaching girls at the grassroots level about hygiene and safe water practices, which also promotes the creation of sanitation facilities for young women when they reach puberty.
Finally, water scarcity goes beyond a "simple" quest for clean water and exposes the unjustifiable conditions in which children across the globe live daily, with slow-evolving, sustainable solutions still too far behind their fate.
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“We were shocked to see how some people have to drink dirty, contaminated water and walk miles and miles to get it.”
- Jessie, Middle School