Maybe dogs aren’t the only ones drinking water from a toilet bowl. In the United States, we have easy access to clean water. We use culinary water to do our dishes, bathe, wash our cars, and even fill our toilets. Most Americans don’t ever consider the possibility of running out of drinkable water; the same can’t be said for the friends I made in the Philippines. Let me tell you a story.
It was July 9, 2014, and Hurricane Rammasun rattled our windows. We watched in horror as tin roofs ripped off the homes around us and flew like giant razor blades. The rain was pouring down, and the building next to ours swayed badly. As the howling wind pushed and pulled on an old three-story wood building, I thought about how grateful I was that my apartment was made of cement. Then, just like a house of sticks made by the pig from the children’s rhyme, Rammasun blew the building down. The horror I felt watching that building collapse was only a portion of the pain that storm caused. In the days following, I watched the price of Filipino drinking water increase threefold. I saw individuals make the choice of water over rice because they didn’t have money for both. I watched two grown men fight over one of these coveted blue water jugs.
Access to clean and drinkable water is essential to sustain life. Everyone deserves access to it at a reasonable cost, no matter which country they live in. However, many third-world countries are similar to the Philippines, and access to clean water is a luxury only available to a privileged few. It is imperative that we address this issue and work towards equitable access to drinkable water for all instead of flushing it down the toilet.
Waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery are common in areas where clean water is not readily available. These diseases can lead to severe illness and even death, particularly for vulnerable populations such as children. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 829,000 deaths from diarrhea could be attributed to unsafe drinking water, sanitation, and hand hygiene annually. The WHO also reported 297,000 deaths of children under five years old could be avoided yearly if these risk factors were addressed. It goes without saying that if clean water was readily available, hand hygiene and sanitation would improve. No one will wash their hands if they have a limited clean water supply.
Clean water doesn’t only affect health; it affects our wallets. A cross-sectional study done in Indonesia compared enrollment in junior high school and access to drinkable water to see which one had a greater impact on the economic growth of a nation. By looking at data from 500 different cities, they determined that household access to clean water increased economic growth nearly twice as fast as education. If families don’t have to spend hours acquiring clean water, they can focus more time on industry and entrepreneurship.
I’m not saying we can solve the world’s water problem by using irrigation water in our bathroom plumbing. Still, I am saying that smarter stewardship of this limited resource is imperative to global public health. We need more funds directed to charity work in third-world water infrastructure. Organizations like planet water foundation are installing gravity-powered ultrafiltration systems that provide 1,000 liters per hour, enough to provide 1,800 people with drinking water. charity: water is the world leader in clean water, applying an “agnostic approach to clean water” using whatever system best fits the community’s needs. These charities provide clean water to millions of people worldwide each year, and additional funding could broaden their impact. These charities and others like them not only provide clean water but also work to raise awareness about proper water management and sanitation practices. By conserving and sharing our American toilet water through increasing our collective philanthropy, we can save lives and better livelihoods of our brothers in countries around the world.
Connor Christensen is a medical student.