For Lack of Clean Water

2.5 billion people have no access to clean drinking water.

1.5 million people, mostly children, die each year from water-borne diseases and the lack of sanitation.

OK, a bunch of numbers. Meaningless, more or less. An evil man once said, One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is just a statistic.

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In our age, it’s almost trite to say, we are inured to suffering of other human beings. By and large we don’t care. We have seen the reality of death and disease up close — but in reality at a safe, sterilizing remove, so we think we know it, and don’t hear the cries of mothers and fathers or smell the scent of decay — and we remain unimpressed and unmoved. An earthquake in Haïti takes lives by the hundreds of thousands, and ruins a country already stricken by vast poverty; the report of this tragedy lasts a few news cycles and is forgotten a month later. A flood in a very foreign, distrusted country covers a fifth of the landscape, and makes homeless 21 million people. We flip the channel.

What hope do 1.5 million have, a steady trickle, a regular constant drip (as it were) of death when hearts of granite watch more immediate devastation dried-eyed, if they watch at all?

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And we think: someone
(Who? asks a conscience weak with the salve of Costco and comfortable blameless lives;
The Internet, Facebook, Twitter, wristbands, pink ribbons,
Have made slacktivists of us all)
Will take care of them,
Them is a foreign country, after all. Not out concern.

Or: I saw them once, when we got lost off the cruise ship,
Dilapidation everywhere, men staring in the streets:
We were frightened, the way they live! — Hard work, Godliness
Sewers and garbage collection is all they need and

Or: bottled water is everywhere there, mountains of cheap plastic
Litter gutters and grassy vacant lots and sandy beaches
The market will solve it
Men with no money and women with less wanting
A litre, a half-litre polyethylene terephthalate
Payment makes safe a right.

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Some ways a child can die from bad water:

Cholera, RotavirusClostridium botulinum, Campylobacteriosis, Norovirus, dysentery (multiple agents), Salmonella typhi, Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli. But generally, diarrhea, causing dehydration, fluid-electrolyte imbalances, renal failure, cardiac arrhythmias, death.

Oral replacement therapy since the 1980s has literally saved the lives of millions of people. The common home-prepared solution: 1 level teaspoon of salt, 8 level teaspoons sugar in a litre of clean water. Salt, sugar, water: literally and in all senses the stuff of life.

But still, 1.5 million.

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Practically, I concede, short of going and helping personally — and many, many do, you’d be surprised — what can you do about water? A wristband or ribbon is a wish or a prayer; don’t buy one unless you’re ready to assume responsibility, because wishes and prayers imply action and movement. Cast off cynicism and indifference. Prepare for the long haul. Inform yourself. Educate others. Make real the abstract. Fundraise. Pick a charity to be yours, with faith, love and hope.

Because real action does make a difference.

[Posted for Blog Action Day 2010: Water]

[Cross-posted at Sister Sage’s Musings]


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  1. #1 by elenasc on Friday 15 October 2010 - 1343

    Thanks for this post!
    Please read and share my post about Water’s footprint in Fashion
    You can make the difference!

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