Blog Action Day: Water

Most of us take water for granted. It is colorless, tasteless and runs within, on or around our bodies every moment of our lives. Water flows and forms around obstacles, freezes and cracks the hardest stone, evaporates and floats away as a free cloud. Water is essential to life, the regulation of the world’s climate and most of our industries. Humans can’t survive without water for more than a few days. Lacking water, our societies would cease to function. For many people with a reliable internet connection and the time to read blog posts, shortage to water is not an imminent concern.

Today is Blog Action Day and the theme is “water”. We are calling attention to the issue of water and how our wasteful use of this resource is threatening all of us. The Blog Action Day website lists some statistics:

  • Unsafe drinking water is a greater killer of humans each year than violence and war
  • The death toll is 42,000 people each week
  • 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets, resulting in contamination of drinking water

Preventing pollution and contamination is one concrete step we can take to improve access to clean water and prevent illness, death and conflict. Luckily billionaire philanthropist and world class smart guy Bill Gates is interested in toilets so help may be on the way soon on this front.

Jamie Flinchbaugh wrote there is no water problem and he is right. There is no single water issue can pin down and solve, there are many. Water is the medium that turns our wasteful and selfish behaviors into deadly problems for other people. We can’t always see the cause-and-effect relationship between how we use water in our homes, food service supply chains and factories, because the people who feel the effects are far away and without means to cry out to us in protest. As a concrete examples of how local consumer behaviors can have non-local effects, here is another statistic from the Blog Action Day website:

  • 6.3 gallons of water are needed to produce one hamburger

Compare that to the water needed to make a gallon of hearty soup. It’s 2-3 gallons max, unless you’re making hamburger soup. For a hamburger, the water is used for growing wheat for the bun, feeding the cow, cooking the patty and baking the bun, washing in the kitchen etc. In the USA we consume over 14 billion hamburgers each year. We have an opportunity to reduce some of the 88.2 billion gallons of water spent each year on preparing this popular food item. Another statistic cites that Americans use 159 gallons of water per day, 15 times the average person in the developing world. The USA has been number one in water consumption for long enough, let’s try for number one in improvement in water use in the near future.

This doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our hamburgers, chips and beer, but to those with greater power, greater responsibility. We may individually have only limited power but as a community and society we can increase awareness, encourage others and find more water-efficient ways to live. We can see an example of a corporation taking this responsibility in the article Molson Coors Workers Pledge to Save 700K Gallons of Water a Month. Through their Water Stewardship Month activity, over 1,000 volunteers from 10 breweries across the USA, Canada and the UK joined forces with their communities in water protection work. I’ll drink to that.

We live in one world. We share one global water cycle. Sooner or later what goes around comes around, and the troubles from a lack of water will come around sooner than we like if we don’t each work to increase awareness and care for our shared water supply.

6 Comments

  1. ruchita.puri@srworks.biz

    October 15, 2010 - 3:49 pm

    The fact about the hamburger needing so much water caught me by surprise.
    I am a vegetarian, so I am supporting water preservation in some way.
    Water is our next commodity.

  2. mike R

    October 15, 2010 - 7:38 pm

    you are all wet

  3. John Santomer

    October 15, 2010 - 11:00 pm

    Dear Jon,
    How do you drive ownership of individual responsibility on such a large scale? For people who are already aware and are affected…it will mean so much. For those who are not yet in areas where effects are highly susceptible and this resource is still abundant (as you say, the number 1 water consumers)- it will take more than a person of influence and affluence to turn around decades of mis-use. But it has to start already – sounds very similar with nations tackling global warming, reduction in CFCs and halocarbon emissions.

  4. sharma

    October 18, 2010 - 2:58 am

    and 1 kg. of coffee requires 2000 kgs of water!!!
    “theres enough in this world for everyones needs, but not enough for one man’s greed”.
    70% of earth is covered with water.
    conservation needs awareness and political will power.
    Thanks!
    sharma

  5. John Hunter

    October 18, 2010 - 7:46 am

    Great post. I love appropriate technology solutions (very lean-like, very worthwhile, and very sustainable – you mention the importance of that). Here are some good efforts to work on water solutions
    http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/2008/12/11/high-school-inventor-teams-mit/
    http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/2008/02/10/water-pump-merry-go-round/
    http://www.globalgiving.org/dy/v2/content/search.html?q=water
    I like how blogs allow (by providing the authors a audience) to focus attention on ideas worth addressing. Keep up the great work with this blog. Thanks.

  6. harley

    October 22, 2010 - 1:31 pm

    There is a great non profit organization that is working around the world to help solve this problem: Water For People http://www.waterforpeople.org/ They don’t just build a well or a composting toilet, they develop the expertise and infastructure needed so that when they leave, the improvement is self-sustaining.