I am here in Africa. Here, like everywhere, access to water is important for everyday living. Running water is an unspeakable luxury for much of the developing world, and many in Africa have never personally experienced it.
Few in the United States understand how to conserve water. The notable exception is the famous “Navy shower” taking place on aircraft carriers and other ships where water is seen as a scarce and valuable resource.
In South Sudan, it is not uncommon for women to walk two hours each way, every day, to get water. We have seen injuries sustained by young children as they try and pump water for their families. In the West, it is hard for us to imagine how difficult getting water is for families. Water is mainly gathered by women and sometimes children.
The United Nations with help from the government of Italy and the Umbria Region recently reported on the need for water and sustainability. The long-term need for water is expected to increase by 55 percent by the year 2050. The reasons for this growth are more than just the increase in population, but how water is used. Manufacturing and thermal electricity generation are just two of the reasons the need for water is increasing.
The world has declared that access to clean drinking water is a human right. The problem is, urbanization, poor practices in agriculture, deforestation and pollution are contributing to the water shortage problem. Information about where water is and how it can be tapped is also lacking in the developing world. As the United Nations says, “Poverty-oriented water interventions can make a difference for billions of poor people who receive very direct benefits from improved water and sanitation services through better health, reduced health costs, increased productivity and time savings.”
Investment in this infrastructure and also “water education” is a necessity for the rest of the world. For people who think we should focus on “America first,” we need to be reminded of one word, “Ebola.” Our world is now a very small place, and because of air travel most of the world is quickly accessible. That means new and often lethal diseases are also quickly accessible. Sanitation and water are crucial parts of a world health model. There is now even an acronym for this, WASH, it translates to water supply, sanitation and hygiene.
The numbers that correspond to investment are impressive. The United Nations World Water Assessment Program says in developing regions (such as Africa), “the return on investment has been estimated at US $5 to $US 28 per dollar. An estimated $53 billion a year over a five-year period would be needed to achieve universal coverage – a small sum given this represented less than .01 of the 2010 global GDP. ”
If there is not investment made and made soon, the lack of food production is going to mean more hunger, malnutrition and starvation. Evidence from the World Water Assessment Program reveals that by 2050, agriculture will need to produce 60 percent more food globally and in developing countries, 100 percent more food.
These days are not like the days depicted in the Bible. There most likely will not be “manna from heaven.” God’s children are going to have to learn to feed and water themselves. As I have heard many times in the developing world, “God helps those who help themselves.” We now have a major responsibility to act within the resources given to us. We have a responsibility to help “the least of these.” The least of these are not just people living off the land or living in slums in cities across the globe, but people in many places who are lacking water.
It is not just the development of these water resources that is important but also the storage of fresh water. For those of us with taps in our homes, it is a hard concept to understand. In Africa, water storage is less than 10 percent of what it is in North America. So, women walk hours just to get pumped water every day.
Agriculture and the use of water is imperative, not just for the world’s poorest and least developed areas but for all of us human beings. The best use of water will sustain all of us, and help control the spread of disease for all of humanity in the years to come. It is a moral imperative for all who share this beautiful planet.
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