Tuesday, March 22, 2016

#WorldWaterDay Is for Everyone

Clean water for students at Railway Primary School in
Kampala, Uganda Photo by Cindy Levin)
For past World Water Days, I admit my thoughts always turned to countries far from the U.S. where women and girls spend precious time and energy every day to carry water. Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Haiti...these are the places that immediately jump to my mind where people in extreme poverty don't have access to clean water. 

Me: rehydrating after training
Yet this year, my own country got a crash course in clean water needs as well because of recent events in the city of Flint, Michigan. (Fun fact: I ran my first 10 mile race in Flint in 1996, never thinking once about the gallons of water I drank during training and racing) Until 2014, many Flint citizens were as trusting of water coming out of their taps as I had been. However, after Flint changed its water source to water from from the Flint River without corrosion treatment, corrosive water from the river caused lead from aging pipes to leach into the public water supply. The drinking water ended up contaminated with lead, creating a serious public health danger. Over 8,000 children under 6 have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead according to the Detroit Free Press. Now, you can go online to hear and see stories of American moms traveling miles and carrying clean bottled water for their children to wash in and drink.

So this World Water Day, I'm thinking about how the Sustainable Development Goals  - including Goal 6: Ensure Access to Water and Sanitation for All - (remember those #GlobalGoals we adopted?) are for EVERYONE...not just Africans, not just Asians, not just rich people, not just poor people. 
Everyone deserves good, clean sources of drinking water. 
A woman carries 10 gallons of water barefoot
along the side of the road in Uganda
(Photo by Cindy Levin)
The actions I take today are for all of the 663 million people without access to clean water worldwide (source: UNICEF) and especially for the mothers and daughters who carry that heavy, precious water to their families every single day. 

To start the day out right, I decided to take inspiration from two African women I've never met: this anonymous woman pictured to the right who was one of many I saw along the Ugandan roads carrying plastic jerry cans full of water and Siabatou Sanney who walked a marathon with 5 gallons of water on her head to raise money and awareness for Water for Africa. See a video of Siabatou's story here:

Now, please enjoy a video of me clumsily trying to carry 5 gallons on my head around my neighborhood...

Not surprisingly, my awkwardness and difficulty with the task helps illustrate the skill and strength of other women who carry water for years. Slate magazine reported years ago in a piece called "The Art and Science of Carrying Things on Your Head": "For untrained controls who have not had years to strengthen the right muscles and build up spinal bone density, carrying things on your head actually requires more energy than using a backpack." In other words, don't try Siabatou's marathon trick at home, folks!

My daughter's 3rd grade class carrying water for
3/4 of a mile to learn what it's like.
Now, has my foolishness inspired you to take an action? Here are a few easy actions YOU can take today to provide water to others for years. They are listed from least to most effort: