Water encompasses many aspects in our lives. It links us to our past and future. Water currently used for production, bathing, and hydration was present during the dinosaur era (Sigit, 2019). It is the key to life and is “the core of sustainable development” when it comes to achieving goals. People call Earth the blue planet for a good reason. Oceans dominate, with land and clouds making subtler appearances. This makes it easy to forget that despite its abundance, water is still a precious resource.
Cotton farming and clothing production are water intensive and create pollution. Mounds of clothes are heaped at dump sites. These towering piles of fabric can take 200+ years to decompose. The fashion industry is incredibly wasteful, with 85 percent of garments going to waste. Clothing is produced rapidly to meet customer demand.
Water in Clothing Production
It Begins with Cotton…
Producing textiles is an arduous process. A kilogram of raw cotton uses 10,000-20,000 liters of water. Additionally, dyeing, spinning, and finishing uses 100 to 150 liters. As for cotton farming, about half of production requires additional irrigation. This strains water reserves in areas without enough rainfall. Cotton is popular, with approximately half of all fabrics being made out of this crop. However, its manufacturing process is unsustainable. Cotton is linked to a negative “chain of impacts” worldwide.
Cotton farming severely impacts countries around the world. Uzbekistan has drained the Aral Sea Basin. In China and India, cotton is grown in the drier areas, with little regard to water consumption (Leahy, 2015). Australia extracts “about five Sydney Harbours’” per year. In Latin America and the Caribbean, cotton has ”the highest return per unit of water used” out of the agricultural export products. North America is not immune to these detrimental effects either. In the United States, western states struggle with shortages, with water being imported elsewhere to grow cotton.
Cotton farming also causes pollution. In Bangladesh, the Dhaka River has turned into dark sludge, all so that shops in the United States and Europe can earn profit (Regan, 2020). Meanwhile in India, cotton uses about 50% of all pesticides in the country. The United States is undergoing a similar predicament, with cotton being the third most pesticide intensive crop. In the end, water too full of toxins is untreatable (Le, 2020). Runoff from fields also results in algal blooms that block sunlight, create contagions and consume oxygen.
The solution involves growing and producing things in the right place. Farmers are already learning about how rainwater harvesting or drip irrigation can save up to 60% of water resources. Water planning and minimal pesticide use has made it easier to cultivate without negative consequences (Newell, 2016). Companies are eliminating the procedures that use up so much water by attempting to reuse fibers. Organic cotton production is a better alternative, since it prioritizes the “preservation of lands.”
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
From argyle print to sage green, trends cycle in and out of style, turning coveted items into last season trash. This can make it difficult to find what to wear. In an effort to profit off this ever changing market, corporations overproduce clothing.
As consumers, we have more power than we realize. Our purchases tell companies what we want. Although it is impossible to halt all cotton production, emphasis can be placed on certified organic cotton. Buying sustainably can be more expensive than fast fashion. Nevertheless, it is a worthy investment. Poorly made clothing tends to break down after a couple of wears and washes.
A cheaper alternative to reduce your water footprint is to use clothing that has already been made by thrifting or purchasing second-hand and in return, donating unwanted garments. With a shirt using about 2,700 liters and a pair of jeans over 8,000, thrifting one outfit can save thousands of liters of water. Lastly, leadership should enact and enforce regulations on water consumption.
Oftentimes, we want to have an effect by setting goals for ourselves. Perhaps we promise to take shorter showers or turn off the tap. Unfortunately, being fully sustainable and waste free is financially unfeasible for many. The good news is that small changes make a big difference. If more people subtly changed their routines, it would make more of an impact than anything else.
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Featuring commentary from our founder, Lou Haveman
Imagine carrying 5 buckets of water each day to and from your house: to bathe, to cook, and to drink—and then worrying about which bacterial infection you might receive.
In the United States, this is something that is largely avoided. However, other countries around the world, such as Sierra Leone, struggle with access to clean water on a daily basis.
In Sierra Leone, the general population has extremely low access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), at just 16% of the population. Less than 1% of the population has piped water in their home. Low access to WASH contributes to health concerns such as diarrhea, acute respiratory illnesses, undernutrition and worm infestations. All of these can lead to death and many other health issues. (UNICEF).
Connect for Water founder Lou Haveman reflected on his time living in Sierra Leone. Haveman lived in Sierra Leone through part of the 1980s as well as in several other regions of Africa.
“In that day, we didn’t think of clean water. I’ve regretted living (in Sierra Leone) at that point and time because here’s the thing: almost everybody had a chronic case of bacterial infection,” reflected Haveman.
While in Sierra Leone, Haveman and his team focused mostly on food insecurity, community development and literacy. All which are important issues—but dodge the root of many health concerns in the region: lack of clean water. However, water was not a major concern at the time because of the abundance of rainfall in the region.
“If you know anything about the geography of Sierra Leone you know it’s high forests, lots of rainfall, 60 to 80 inches a year,” said Haveman. “So, lots of streams, lakes and a lot of rivers. The source of water for almost everyone was open wells, rivers and streams.”
“If we had known what we know now, we could have gone in and just provided clean filtration or clean water and called it good, but we didn’t know that and we didn’t focus on water,” Haveman added.
Present Day Sierra Leone
‘What we know now’ is that much of the water in Sierra Leone is contaminated. Although rainfall and water is plentiful, the quality of that water is subpar. Therefore, access to clean sanitation is nearly impossible for the average household in Sierra Leone, bringing about waterborne disease. According to UNICEF and Haveman, much of the problem comes from poor infrastructure, which leads to human and animal defecation leaking into drinking water.
Sierra Leone is a beautiful region, spotted with beaches, flourishing trees—it should have a stable, tourist-centered economy to support secure infrastructure—it does not.
“Sierra Leone experienced a civil war for a number of years and a lot of the infrastructure that did exist was destroyed, including some water systems. Now there’s a higher population and more demand for water,” stated Haveman.
This is the raw truth. Before the civil war, people lived in the countryside of Sierra Leone and access to clean water was plentiful. It bubbled out of springs and rushed down mountainsides. As the war began, people started to move to the capital, Freetown, and the population grew, but infrastructure did not improve (NPR). These people are now crammed into small brown villas with metal roofs, fighting off disease.
As of now, many neighborhoods have implemented water kiosks. For a small fee, villagers can fill up their cans with water trickling from taps. In some areas of Sierra Leone, water kiosks are run by private companies with their own buildings. Many sources of water, though, are just pipes that run above ground or water collected from rivers and rainfall.
To our Network
Here at Connect for Water, we aim to give hope to areas like Sierra Leone. Though it may be hard to envision this reality, it’s important to us that you’ve taken the time to read about it, so, thank you! If you want to hear more stories like this, join our network here. If you want to help us raise funds for those in Sierra Leone, go to our sponsorship page here.
The Relationship Between the Global Pandemic and Availability of WASH Services and Products
Around the world, everyone has been impacted by COVID-19. Whether it has been in a job situation, a family member having gotten sick, or has affected products that are available to you, there is not a single person who has not felt the impacts of the pandemic. Yet, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services in the global south.
Imagine you live in a favela – the slums of Brazil, where everyday life has become increasingly more difficult since the beginning of the pandemic. Your home is made out of salvaged materials like corrugated metal, sand, and concrete pillars. Homes are nearly stacked upon each other and are poorly insulated, making social distancing and privacy nearly impossible. You do not have running water in your home and must walk long distances in order to obtain freshwater.
This is Maria’s reality – a 40 year old, single mother, who had no choice but to move into one of these communities. Her experience may vary greatly from your own during the pandemic.
Sadly, Brazil has one of the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in Latin America, and over 626,000 deaths as of January 2022, according to SIWI (Stockholm International Water Institute) and Worldometer. Knowledge of proper handwashing as the best form of prevention has become prevalent during the last few years. Yet, PubMed states that availability of clean water and soap are often lacking in low-, middle- and high-income countries alike. Brazil, and countries like it, have been taking steps towards COVID-19 containment – protecting people like Maria and many others. They have done so by addressing the factors that impact availability of freshwater; educating communities on the importance of handwashing, along with providing essential products and services; and by focusing on recovery, maintenance, and prevention.
Water Scarcity and Inadequate Sanitation
Brazil, a country of 212 million people, currently has 1.2 million people without access to safe water and another 20 million without access to improved sanitation, as confirmed by Water.org. Inequalities in both access to water and sanitation are impacted by varying levels of economic development – both in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, like where Maria lives, this means living without a flushable toilet or running water in her home, and generally higher rates of disease and infant mortality than in regulated urban areas. As unemployment grows, more move to the favelas of Brazil.
This is what happened to Maria and her son, Rafael, who now live in a favela just outside Sao Paulo. Up until the pandemic, Maria worked as a housekeeper at a local hotel. In the early months of the pandemic lock downs, many employees were laid off – Maria being one of them. She quickly fell behind on her bills and was evicted from her home. Her only option was to move her family to a nearby favela. In their new home, they were even more aware of the immense gap between rich and poor that has led to extreme differences in quality of living.
Things like climate change, how land is used, the quantity of water used for irrigation, and pollution heavily influence the availability of fresh water. Water scarcity is further impacted by situations such as population growth in urban areas and deficient sewage systems. Lower-income communities tend to be most affected and their health suffers as a result.
The Importance of Handwashing
Hygiene products such as hand sanitizer, are sold out in most stores as well. Residents literally have to fight for the right to wash their hands. Maria, Rafael, and others in their community are among those who struggle to find hand sanitizer, and sometimes soap. Maria is aware of the dangers the pandemic poses, and is knowledgeable of good handwashing practices. Since soap is hard to come by, Maria must severely ration their supply for as long as she can.
According to The Harvard Gazette, washing hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds creates friction that lifts and washes away microbes from the skin. WHO (World Health Organization) claims that properly washing your hands can prevent around half of all preventable infections, including COVID-19.
However, many people do not properly wash their hands – or are not able to do so during important times (such as after using the restroom or before preparing food). In Brazil, around 35 million people are unable to stay home and practice appropriate hand hygiene for their homes are without flushable toilets or running water. While many residents of favelas are mindful of safeguards to prevent getting sick, unreliable access to water makes them more susceptible to the virus.
This is what Maria and Rafael face in their home. Because there is no running water, she must make a somewhat treacherous journey, multiple times a day to access freshwater. Carrying the water back home is difficult for Maria. She must carry the water up a steep hill; on a good day she makes this trip 3 times. Around the world, in countries that encounter water scarcity, organizations such as Children International and the World Bank Group have made headway in combating COVID-19 by educating parents and children on the importance of routine hand washing and by securing fixed and portable handwashing facilities, soap or alcohol-based hand rubs, and reliable water supplies within various communities.
Reliable Access to WASH Services
Reliable access to WASH services is essential in containing and preventing transmission of diseases, including COVID-19. Preventing illness and their complications is not only cheaper for health systems, but also essential in ensuring their future. Combating the spread of antimicrobial resistance with proper handwashing and immunization helps to further reduce the burden on healthcare systems. Measures such as vaccination, diagnostic screening, and behavioral and lifestyle changes can reduce the need for hospital care and treatment while greatly improving disease outcomes.
Even though it is now common knowledge that prevention is the best way to fight pandemics like COVID-19, less than 3% of health budgets are dedicated to preventive measures, even in the higher-income countries like the United States. The inconsistency of clean water for many Brazilians makes handwashing a challenge. Residents of favelas wait on the government to make repairs, such as installing water tanks or sanitation systems, with the most vulnerable depending on support from their neighbors.
A Hopeful Future
Thankfully neither Maria nor Rafael have had COVID-19, but they have seen many in their community suffer. Maintaining, and in some cases implementing, public health infrastructure are among the greatest cost-efficient approaches in developing pandemic preparations, particularly in resource-constrained communities.
When families have running water in their homes and a flushing toilet, they are able to properly dispose of waste and practice proper hand hygiene. If WASH services and infrastructure are properly controlled during the recovery phase of a disease outbreak, secondary impacts like supply chain disruptions or panic-buying may be prevented. If not properly managed, these secondary impacts may amplify further the risks associated with water borne illnesses, in addition to COVID-19 (World Bank, 2020).
Brazil has an ample amount of water, yet faces unfair distribution of water resources. Fair allocation of WASH services and products are critical in preventing and controlling illnesses like COVID-19. In conjunction with other protective measures such as physical distance and self-isolation, Brazil may actively mitigate the impacts caused by the pandemic, protecting Maria and millions of other people.
For families like Maria’s, being able to routinely access clean water and wash their hands can mean the difference between living well and simply surviving. You can make a difference in the lives of people around the world who do not have access to clean water. Become a water sponsor for $5 a month and you will be able to provide clean water for a family for 5 years. Follow along to learn more about the water crisis, share this article with a friend, and subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed!
As the water crisis develops worldwide, there has been an urge for you to take part in water conservation. Doing your part will help global efforts to reduce water consumption. Turn off the tap. You’ve heard this phrase often – don’t leave water running for too long, take shorter showers. These practices are wonderful and can save several gallons of water per day, but are the most obvious to put into practice. Listed below are some tips to conserve water even when it isn’t obvious!
1. Your Milk: Hopefully not Almond!
Almond milk has been awful for the world of water. Almonds are mainly grown and harvested in California, where land is continuing to be irrigated for the use of almond production. According to a New York Times article, it takes 15 gallons of water to grow just 16 almonds there. The natural lands harvested for almond farms are mostly wetlands, taking away natural water-rich systems from the state. Although almond milk is tasty, consider alternatives such as soy or oat. Soy, a great alternative post-workout, is packed with protein: a new version of it has almost 20g of protein per serving.
2. Conserve with Mulch
If you have any trees growing around you, make sure they are circled by mulch. Mulch acts as a moisture holder for the soil underneath a tree, nurturing its roots. It also acts as defense against the sun, keeping a tree cool during hot periods of the day. Investing in mulch will allow you to water your trees less and will help them live longer. Mulch can help retain water in other plants such as bushes and flowers, as well. Also: it looks great! Easy landscaping, really!
3.Take a Bath (If you Take Long Showers)
If you are someone that takes long showers, consider taking a bath. Specifically, if you normally take twenty-minute showers, a bath would conserve more water, according to an article by Huffpost. One article from Cleveland Clinic adds that baths improve mental and emotional health, soothe muscle and joint pain, and heal wounds. Further research suggests that adding epsom salts to your bath can better soothe muscle aches. Pooling water instead of letting it run is practical in other situations, such as washing the dishes in a half-sink of soapy water. Think about these the next time you shower or wash dishes: you could save money on the water bill and better the planet!
4.Fast Fashion: Dangerous for Water Consumption
You may have heard the term ‘fast fashion’ being passed around environmentalist groups or in local buzz. It’s true: the fashion and textiles industry is a major contributor to water consumption and pollution. A study by the World Wildlife Fund shows that cotton (the main commodity used in textiles) is the second most water-intensive crop on Earth, consuming 7,000-29,000 liters of water per kilogram of cotton produced. Furthermore, Forbes suggests that the industry is a polluter at “all stages of the value chain,” from cottonfield runoff choking rivers with harmful algal blooms to releasing ‘cocktails’ of toxic chemicals, as well as the release of microplastics from washing clothes. Here is how you can help this mess: buy less, buy better quality, and donate or sell old clothes. Never throw away clothing you don’t want. If you must, dispose of old clothes in a textile waste bin. Another way to reduce your clothing waste is to rent, which is a growing business. Fashion is fun, but don’t get in the habit of buying cheap, and if you do, make sure to dispose of your clothes correctly.
Overall, being conscious about your own water usage is important to making real change in the way people live. It could be the difference in someone else’s quality of life. These are just a few of the many water costs that come with living as a human on our planet! To be more mindful about your own water consumption, do research about trade-offs like these to better serve our wonderful rock in the Universe, and the people and animals who inhabit it.
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At Connect for Water, we see a world where people, businesses and organizatons are working together to bring water products and solutions to those in need around the world through collaboration, partnerships, and support for the growth of local market channels. As we focus on partnership, a part of that is celebrating the work of organizations around the world. There is no one organization that is solving the water crisis, we must work to do that together.
This week, we want to highlight the work of H2O for Life, an organization that works to educate youth on the water crisis. They offer a serving-learning opportunity designed to engage, educate and inspire youth to take action to solve the global water crisis.
It all started with Patty Hall, who received a cry for help from a small village in Kenya that was desperate to get access to clean water. She had built relationships there and one of her friends reached out saying there was a harsh drought. They had a river that flowed through the village, but it had dried up. They needed a sand dam so that they could collect water during the rainy season. She took action and introduced an idea to her school in New Brighton, Minnesota. The students got the opportunity to learn about the global water crisis and created an action plan to provide clean water to the Kathungu Village. They got super excited about the project and even raised double the amount of money needed for the village.
“We Actually Did This.”
Once the money was sent and the dam was built, the villagers sent a video to the students in Minnesota. This is when it really hit home for the students and they saw they actually made this happen. The students were so excited to see that they had done such a great thing.
Reader’s Digest published a small article on the project which caught the eye of the Today Show. They eventually did a segment featuring the project and it led to a viewer reaching out to Patty. The viewer loved that kids were helping their peers around the world and encouraged her to get this program into more schools.
She decided to grow out the educational program and connected with more schools in the area. Students and teachers were very enthusiastic about the new program. It caused a culture shift in every school where it was implemented with students becoming kinder and more giving. They were learning that even as students, they could make a difference.
How It Works
Through this program, students and teachers can focus on a specific community to study or learn about the water crisis as a whole. They also use P&G Purifier of Water packets to see how dirty water can be changed to clean water. Then, they take action to fundraise for a project that they choose with H2O for Life.
H2O for Life connects the classrooms with non-profits that implement the water projects. They have worked with partners like Freshwater Project International, Ugandan Water Project and The Water Project. In order to ensure sustainability and effective partnerships, H2O for Life evaluates the implementation partners. They ask questions of metrics, sustainability, and local involvement. In addition to implementation, H2O for Life requests completion reports, videos and photos. This is important as it creates accountability and it provides the classrooms in the United States with an idea of the impact their work had.
What You Can Do
As they look to the future, they hope to see more schools take advantage of the program and support more projects. Their programs were affected greatly by the pandemic with many school wide events cancelled, but they have hope as they grow in this new year. In addition to their classroom programs, they hope to create a teacher ambassador program that would allow passionate teachers to reach even more classrooms.
If you would like to learn more about H2O for Life, you visit their website. They are also always looking for schools that want to be involved in their program.
This is why we do what we do at Connect for Water, to connect you with those making a difference around the world. We can end the water crisis together.
We are always on the lookout for excellent organizations doing great work in the clean water space. One of the recent organizations that we got to hear from was Water Wins.
It all began with recognizing a need for clean water. When a community has access to it, child mortality rates fall from 50% to less than 10% in children 5 and under. With this in mind, Water Wins decided to work with communities in the Eastern Kambari area of northwest Nigeria to drill wells to provide clean water and save lives. The relationships they build by drilling wells opens the door to further development including education, healthcare, agricultural programs and more.
The organization is non-profit certified in Nigeria and has a full Nigerian Board. There is also another board made up of volunteers from the United States who mentor and raise funds for the project. In addition, over 30 Nigerian employees are a part of Water Wins and do maintenance on the wells, run the drill rigs, evangelize, teach at their Academy and work in the health facilities.
After the initial installation of the wells, Water Wins works to do full community development which includes education, health facility creation, and agricultural projects. This led to them starting Water Wins Academy, the first primary and secondary school in the area. Classrooms have about 30 kids each and the families are so thankful for the opportunity for the children to learn.
In each community, there is a sustainability plan in place. The schools and health facilities do charge a small fee. They also have the community pay about 20% of the upfront cost to have the well drilled. This helps the community buy into the project as well as create accountability for the future. In some communities they have also done agriculture projects, which helps the communities earn more income and pay a little bit more. Water Wins also has a maintenance team that regularly visits the communities to ensure the wells are working properly. If there is something that was not properly cared for, the community will be charged a fee to get it fixed. These factors of the sustainability plan ensure lasting change in the communities.
The response to the work of Water Wins in the communities has been amazing. They have built trusting relationships with those in the Eastern Kambari area. There are over 500,000 people in that area and they have already drilled 500 wells in various communities. Yet, still they have only reached 20% of the communities with clean water.
One of those impactful stories that the Water Wins team remembers is about a visit to a celebration in Nigeria by Pete Lanser, one of the original volunteers for Water Wins. Chief Rigito, one of the hosts of the celebration turned to Pete. He grinned from ear to ear and said,
“In a few short years, I have seen great transformation in my land- right before my very eyes. Even young couples are naming their first babies at elaborate naming ceremonies- ceremonies full of joy, hope and laughter! Who would have thought! Who would have imagined that a few years ago! Thank our benefactors. God bless you! I am done speaking!”
The village was full of joy and Pete realized the amazing transformation that had taken place. Before having clean water, they wouldn’t name their children until they turned one year old as a way to protect their hearts if they lost them. Now, they name the children at birth. It was a powerful moment, seeing the huge difference of clean water and the many children surrounding the celebration.
They also found that before villages received wells, women would spend four or five hours a day collecting water. As the impact of the clean water access grew, women in these villages were not able to spend time earning income for their families or taking care of their children. One woman shared with the Water Wins team that with the extra time she was able to use her artistic skills to make tapestries to sell in the market. This generated more income for her family and brought joy to her.
Do you want to know how you can be part of the solution to the water crisis, bringing this joy and celebration? Consider being an advocate for the water crisis in your local community. Share the facts and connect your friends into clean water projects. You can also learn more about Water Wins by visiting their website at https://www.waterwins.com.