In the harrowing aftermath of Haiti's earthquake, one of the greatest needs became desperately clear: safe water. For survivors of the calamity, this basic resource was -- and still is -- critical to averting a second disaster in the form of deadly waterborne diseases like cholera and diarrhea.
For many of us, clean water is so plentiful and readily available that we rarely, if ever, pause to consider what life would be like without it. The average American consumes between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day. As a chef, I could not wash my hands -- nor clean pots, pans, utensils, meats or produce, nor make soups and sauces -- if I did not have clean water. Were this to happen, of course, these would be the least of my concerns. Because water is the linchpin of survival: without it, not much else matters.
Even before the earthquake in Haiti, only half the country's population had a source of safe drinking water. Worldwide, more than 884 million people do not have access to clean water -- and half of them are children. For these kids, the only option is a lethal gamble: drinking contaminated water. Every single day, in fact, more than 4,000 children die from causes related to unclean water and inadequate sanitation.
During World Water Week (March 21-27), I'm asking you to take a moment, think about these children, and put yourself in their shoes. I'm also asking you to get involved. As tragic and heart-rending as this crisis is, it is not hopeless. Nor is it inevitable. Which, to me, means that we all have a responsibility to do something about it.
Now, for those of you inclined to roll your eyes, please keep reading. Because you can help solve this problem and save lives by doing something meaningful and fun: going out to eat.
Through the fourth annual UNICEF Tap Project, restaurants all over the country will ask diners to pay a dollar or more for the tap water they normally get for free. The funds raised will help UNICEF provide clean, safe water for children and families in Haiti, as well as the Central African Republic, Guatemala, Togo and Vietnam. A full list of participating restaurants is available at tapproject.org.
Let me give you an idea of how the funds you donate will be used. In parts of the world where water is scarce or contaminated, it's important to think outside the well, if you will. While UNICEF and its partners certainly do drill wells and install water pumps, they also invest in innovative, sustainable solutions that allow people in even the most remote areas to access clean water. These include rainwater harvesting systems and inexpensive, easy-to-use household water filters.
In emergencies, quickly getting safe water to displaced people is a top priority. Within days of the Haiti earthquake, for example, UNICEF delivered more than 5.5 million water purification tablets (which can make unsafe water safe) and more than 550,000 packets of oral rehydration salts (which combat deadly dehydration). Within three weeks of the disaster, UNICEF and its partners were using tanker trucks and other means to reach half a million people with more than 2.6 million liters of water a day.
These lifesaving efforts can't happen unless we support them. So please, this week, work up an appetite, enjoy your meal and your water -- and save some lives.
Follow Marcus Samuelsson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MarcusCooks