03/21/2008 06:16 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Take a Minute Tomorrow When You Turn on the Tap to Consider the 1.1 Billion People in the World Without Safe Water

When you start to turn on the tap tomorrow (March 22) -- World Water Day -- take a minute to consider the more than one billion people around the world who do not have safe and clean water.

While you are standing there looking at the stream of clean water pouring from the spigot, imagine yourself leaving your home at 4 a.m. every day and walking miles to fetch the small amount of water that you can carry back to your home. And then imagine that the only water available to you is from a polluted stream or well -- water that very likely will make you or someone in your family sick.

That's the experience of one of six people on this earth.

If most of us were asked, "What is the most severe health crisis on the globe?" we most likely would think of the AIDS crisis, the malaria epidemic or even multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. Indeed these are serious and deadly illnesses. But the greatest health problem of all is lack of safe water and adequate sanitation.

Eighty percent of all illness in the developing world stems from contaminated water and poor sanitation and 2.2 million people die each year from diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitary conditions such as cholera and dysentery. Children under the age of five account for 90 percent of these deaths. According to the United Nations, 1.7 million of these deaths could be prevented if they had safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

Besides the health problems, there are devastating economic and social consequences. Women and girls spend their days walking miles in search of water instead of earning money for their families or going to school. For the young girl who must trudge endlessly to draw water rather than go to school, the fact that there may now be a school in the village is meaningless and, without an education, her future holds little promise.

When the burden of collecting water every day is removed, one of the immediate benefits is the number of children who regularly attend school. One village teacher said, "I've been teaching here for eight years. Before the borehole well, we had 46 students. Now we have close to 400 students."

Recognizing that water is life, our family foundation, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, began to invest in potable water development about 20 years ago. Since then we have provided nearly one million people with access to clean water and sanitation and we have projects underway in villages with another 1.6 million people.

But that's just a drop in the ocean compared with the incredible need.

We have the technology, the talent and the money to provide clean water for everyone. What we need now is the will to take on the challenge and more funding to make it possible. I do see it happening. More foundations, corporations and NGOs are investing in water projects. Every time you buy a bottle of water at Starbucks, money flows to water projects. Churches, charities and civic organizations are also becoming involved. Churches often organize their members to go to a village for a week or so to dig a well. Lions and Rotary clubs are among those who are taking leadership in this area.

On this World Water Day, take a few minutes to be thankful for your abundant supply of water. Then commit never to take a glass of water for granted again and resolve to help others have that same security. To help, go to to find a list of organizations that are making clean water a priority for all people.

Steven M. Hilton is CEO and President of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation