Diseases associated with water and sanitation continue to cause thousands of preventable deaths each day. About 135,000 children die each month, a disaster by anyone's standards. It is an interesting phenomenon that society pays attention to a natural disaster -- like an earthquake or a tsunami -- far differently than a silent, ongoing disaster that takes, steadily and relentlessly, more lives.
What's unique about the water and sanitation "disaster" is that we have the solutions now. We don't have to wait for a cure and we don't need a silver bullet. Organizations implement sustainable water and sanitation projects everyday. What is needed is for these efforts to receive more resources and renown.
This "do-ability" is perhaps the most important reason we should pay attention to water and sanitation. The other reason is that -- as we instinctively know -- water (and sanitation) is at the heart of everything we do in life. We can live without food for weeks. We will die without water in a matter of days. Water and sanitation are central to health, education and commerce.
In the weeks leading up to World Water Day (March 22) a wide range of happenings ratcheted up the response to the ongoing water and sanitation disaster.
* UNICEF's Tap Project is raising funds for water and sanitation projects in cooperation with restaurants across the country.
* The UN's "stand up so others can sit down" event focused on the taboo subject of going to the toilet and how 40% of humanity can't do that in a safe, secure way.
* The Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)-in-Schools Initiative is addressing the problem that 50% of schools in the developing world lack water and sanitation
These activities demonstrate that everyone can do something to help a global neighbor who suffers needlessly from diseases associated with water and sanitation. In my former work in Africa with Action Against Hunger, I saw firsthand what happened when communities and schools received access to safe drinking water and sanitation: children could attend school; moms no longer had to haul water for miles and had more time to care for their children; a myriad number of disease no longer plagued communities.
At the launch of the Tap Project at the Hearst Tower in NYC, UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu said, "I want 'water' to not be a noun; I want it to be an action." Lucy took action by making a video about the drinking water crisis in Ivory Coast.
This World Water Day, let's follow the lead of all those already taking action and think how we ourselves can be a part of the solution too.