Places that Still Don't Have Clean Water Access (and What We Can Do to Help)

by - Wednesday, July 16, 2014


 Water may be the resource we take most for granted in America. I know that when I have a big drink of water, it feels like something I should do, not necessarily a huge gift. I first became truly aware of how much a privilege it is when one of my grad school roommates started traveling the world as a civil engineer, planning and implementing new systems to get water to communities that need it. It is estimated that there are 2.5 billion people in this world who don't have access to proper sanitation and water, much less safe drinking water. Here are a few places where this is still a huge problem and some ideas of what we can do to help others.

Sub-Saharan Africa

What's the Problem: Geographic limitations and a lack of infrastructure keep  The lack of basic sanitation through clean, safe water is one of the most persistent and destructive issues facing those who are trying to fight poverty in this area of the world. In rural areas, less than a quarter of the population has access to these things we take for granted, and THOUSANDS of people (about 2,000 children alone) die a day because of severe diarrhea caused by these problems. That's crazy. In developing countries, this is also a major feminist issue, because women and girls are primarily responsible for getting water, which often demands a three or four mile walk to the nearest source. Think of how many other things they could be doing (or learning) with that time. You can read specifics and statistics (as well as research other countries) at

What we can do to Help: Non-profits that serve African countries aren't exactly hard to find (there are many- I mean, there are many that just Claire Underwood started), and you should do your own research to discern where you could donate to or volunteer for (depending on your mobility/ location) One is a particularly cool one (founded by Bono) which focuses on campaigning and advocacy (you can read about them here) if you want to be more informed about the issue to spread the word. Charity:Water is another organization that focuses on the way this issue impacts women and which allows you to donate to specific projects at specific locations.


What's the Problem: India faces some very similar sanitation and clean drinking water problems (2/3rds of their population don't have access to sanitation), though the area is so populous that the regionality functions differently and poor urban populations also face these issues widely. It is reported that 22 of India's 32 largest cities have water shortages EVERY DAY. Imagine that. About 186, 000 children under 5 years old die a year from sanitation-caused diarrhea. This article describes the many health risks posed by this crisis. Among other reasons to worry about India, the concern is that these statistics are getting worse every year at a rapid pace as the divide between the rich and the poor in the country widens. You can read more about this issue here.

What We Can Do: My old roommate Jenna continues to travel back and forth to India as part of the Global Freshwater Initiative at Stanford University. Many universities have similar programs and missions, so you might also check your local options to get involved. Much like these issues in Africa, it is easy to feel like the problem is insurmountable and distant, but because of the huge disparity of wealth, many of us in America can have a huge impact by donating a relatively small amount of money (I know, for whatever reason, I often feel compelled to help more in this country because their problems are escalating are so quickly and women are being effected so negatively). Also, many of these overpopulated countries are opening up adoption options internationally, so if you are interested in something big, that might be something you could do. You can read more about getting involved (in much more conventional ways) here.


What's the Problem: Just because water is a right most of us have in the United States doesn't mean that everyone has access to it (or that it hasn't become a tool against the poor by politicians and corporations). This is such a serious and shocking problem. Detroit is currently in crisis, and the struggles (fueled by class and race) between politicians and certain communities is only beginning to get national press like it should (and much of that press, as was highlighted just today, becomes even more poor-shaming).

To say it simply (obviously this is a complex issue),  the Detroit Water Department raised its prices 119% in the last 8 years and has already shut off 17,000 spickets mostly in poor neighborhoods for overdue bills as small as 150 dollars (where major corporations like the stadium and golf clubs owe the Department millions and have seen no repercussions). Because of this major disconnect, and the seemingly intentional targeting of poor black families and neighborhoods suggests that water is being used as a weapon against the power from high-powered politicians (the Republican governor Rick Snyder gets a lot of press in Michigan for his shady dealings for control with the city). You can read about the situation here or here. The UN began to respond to this as a human rights complaint in the past few weeks (read about their history with the United States and Access to clean water here), and I hope that more attention can be brought to the situation, because as we can see in other places, the consequences are incredibly dire.

If you want to argue this is an isolated incident, you can also read about how water and the raising sea level are becoming a huge problem in Florida cities, especially Miami.

What we can Do: Holy crow, let's all do something. Are we really alright with our own people going thirsty in this violently hot summer? Not being able to clean their dishes or take care of their families? Detroit is a city of fantastic community organizers, so you can donate or get involved no matter where you are through organizations like the Detroit Water Brigade. If you want to do something with even less sacrifice, sign the petition for Detroit to demand that water is a human right here.

Alright, this is such a huge issue all over the world, and if you have been thinking about ways to get involved, water is a perfect opportunity to help others on a global scale. I know this is not the kind of thing I think about first, but it is certainly on my mind now, and I hope you join me in trying to make sure people can have water. If we all did a little bit, it could make a huge difference.

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