Limited Resource and Infinite Need: The Freshwater Crisis

Photo by Yada Yada Yada.. |

Just over a week ago, McMaster University held a Global Citizenship Conference involving experts on global issues, a number of innovative workshops, and various student-run awareness groups all targeted towards promoting a global conscience. One of the workshops I attended strongly expressed the significance of the division between developed and developing countries when it comes to availability of essential resources.

Within this engineering-based workshop, everyone was divided into groups to discuss the pros and cons of two different models of water pumps that could be implemented in a village in Malawi. It is one of Africa’s smallest, but most densely populated nations, and is surrounded by land, making access to water quite a feat for many individuals.

Essentially, as globally conscious engineers spreading ideas to make the quality of life better in Nkata Village, Malawi, a decision had to be made on whether an AfriDev Pump or PlayPump would be of more value to the third-world lifestyle.  The AfriDev Pump is a conventional hand pump using lever action to extract water from underground.  The PlayPump utilizes a merry-go-round wheel mechanism which children could play on simultaneously while drawing water from beneath the surface through a valve into a massive above-ground tank.  Approximately 1 billion people worldwide are subject to conditions where manual water pumps would be required, as they don’t have easy access to clean, safe drinking water.

By communicating ideas and watching videos, countless pros and cons were taken into account for each system relating things like the sanitation of the water, the amount that would be available to people on a regular basis, and also the social benefits that could be provided to the community while accessing their water. 

When you think about this scenario, what is your reaction to the fact that your own lifestyle has almost no similarities to people like the citizens of Malawi? How different would your life be if on a daily basis, you had to trek to a remote well to obtain a very minimal amount of water for yourself and your family? If that bucket of water you just gathered is what you had to work with for drinking, cleaning yourself and cooking? In areas where gathering water isn’t possible, impoverished families have to give up 11% of their income for one of life’s most basic needs.

A good way to live more sustainably is to translate this “what if” instance of life in third-world countries to your own daily activities, and think about how different your life would be if you couldn’t take an endless supply of freshwater from the tap.  Realistically, a growing global population drawing from the 2.5% of Earth’s water that is fresh will eventually exhaust the supply.

By 2050, the world's population is estimated to grow by another three billion—90% of this growth being in the developing world.  Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation causes 80% of diseases and kills more people yearly than war crimes!

Children are especially vulnerable because their bodies are not strong enough to become immune to the contaminants in untreated water. 42,000 deaths occur every week to children under 5 years old as a result of unhygienic living conditions & unsafe water.  Clearly, an effort has to be made to give people in developing nations the same right we have.