Water, water, everywhere And all the boards did shrink Water, water everywhere Nor any drop to drink.”

I’m sure the following few words are going to mark me as being so naïve as to have crossed the border from a bit of a dreamer into the land marked asinine bleeding heart liberals only. I’m not going to say anything new, I’m going to borrow a few facts and figures from some great organisations. I’m going to ask a couple of simple questions. The first of these has been nagging away at me for 4 weeks since I read an article on the BBC news web site. It was headlined “Huge Water Resource Exists Under Africa” Here is a link to that article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17775211

It seemed like a major story to me, the BBC gave it a couple of minutes on that night’s 10 o’clock News. But the was one line in the story that had tattooed its self in my conscience, that line was:


 “Across Africa more than 300 million people are said not to have  access to safe drinking water.”

That statistic that is so big, I think it must have ate its self and disappeared under the weight of its own guilt for being such an uncomfortable truth. Well that is only the thin end of the guilt wedge, we have over a billion waiting at the end of this blog.

That line did not merit a mention in the broadcast news report. I’m sure I had heard the statistic before but I was still shocked to the core by the immensity of it and also, why only now was it bothering me so much. Was this fact so well known by everyone but me that the BBC had no need to mention it? I did a little research and asked around a few friends, I asked if they knew how many people in Africa had no access to clean drinking water. Answered ranged from a “couple of million” to “lots” . No one knew the quoted figure. Surely it was worth a mention, would it not help contextualise the story? This figure started stalking my thoughts, water is the most fundamental requisite for life, it’s the very first thing we look for when we boldly go and look for new places in the Universe to populate and pollute. So far, so obvious, I mean if we can’t water our gardens in the Home Counties it’s a lead story, why it even merited a bill in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. So why are the 300 million who can’t give their children a drink of water and know it will not kill them not worth a lead story every night?

I then thought back to the Kony campaign, the film has been watched 90m times on YouTube, that’s a lot of views, (but less than a third of the amount of people that have no access to safe drinking water and all the horror that is wrapped up in those 6 words.) Here  is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of the Kony issue, just to remark that it is a good example of what the internet and motivated people can do to raise awareness of brutal murderous regimes and try to keep them on the forefront of issues for public discussion.

What could be a more brutal and murderous situation than to have babies and young children with no access to safe drinking water?

There are many fine organisations that are doing incredible work to solve the problem and I can only begin to imagine the nightmare of trying to resolve this problem on the ground, but that is not what I am asking about. The question is about how to keep it at the forefront of human thinking, it is arguably the biggest stain on the conscience of humanity, (statistics at the end of the blog) and perhaps it is just too big an uncomfortable truth to deal with.

Now I’m going to get uber-naïve, because I have been thinking about the national debt clock in Manhattan, and how ironic it is that we have a permanent reminder of how much debt the United Stated is in that is constantly updated, yet a situation that globally causes the death of 6,000 children every day goes unmarked. What if we had a counter in every major city that had the amount of people with no access to safe drinking water and those counters were updated by the organisations working in the field so we could see the difference the campaign was making on a monthly basis, perhaps people might find a deep sense of joy to see those counters going down. How many people do you know that would deny anyone access to safe drinking water? It is a universal metaphor for the intrinsic kindness of man used in films and literature where the hero gives his enemy a drink, to show what a fine forgiving human being he is.

We have for instance spent 20+ billion on the Olympics and the world hasn’t stopped turning, imagine if we spent 20 billion on getting people clean drinking water, wouldn’t that make some of you feel good?

So all I am saying if anyone has any idea how we might make this issue top of the global agenda and keep it there, please get in contact. It’s a matter of life and death for over a billion people.

So why didn’t the 300 million even get a mention on the 10 o’clock news, how could that be? That is the question.

The Brutal Facts:

• 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, roughly one-sixth of the world’s population.

• 2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

• Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from water related illnesses.

• In the past 10 years, diarrhea has killed more children than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II.

• Despite the size of the problem, we have made little progress against it.  There were only 181 million fewer people living without safe drinking water in rural settings in 2004 (899 million) vs. 1990 (1.08 billion)*1.

• 50 percent of people on earth lack adequate sanitation. Another way to look at it: Nearly half of the world’s population fails to receive the level of water services available 2,000 years ago to the citizens of ancient Rome.

• Lack of sufficient funding.  It is estimated that, in 2004, only US$4b in overseas development assistance was provided to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) around water*2, versus a projected need of approximately US$10b annually for basic water and sanitation services and an additional US$15b to US$20b annually to provide a higher level of service and to maintain existing services.*3  Note that the MDG goal, reducing the number of people living without safe drinking water and sanitation by half by 2015, still leaves hundreds of millions of people without water and sanitation.

Women and Children

• Some 6,000 children die every day from disease associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene – equivalent to 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.

• The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is six kilometers.

• Tens of millions of children cannot go to school as they must fetch water every day.
Drop out rates for adolescent girls, who even make it that far, skyrocket once they hit puberty as there are no private sanitation facilities at their schools.

Water Diseases

• 80 percent of diseases in the developing world are caused by contaminated water

• Waterborne diseases (the consequence of a combination of lack of clean water supply and inadequate sanitation) cost the Indian economy 73 million working days per year.

• It is estimated that pneumonia, diarrhea, tuberculosis and malaria, which account for 20% of global disease burden, receive less than one percent of total public and private funds devoted to health research.

• If we did nothing other than provide access to clean water, without any other medical intervention, we could save 2 million lives a year.

• The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.



• In China, India and Indonesia, twice as many people are dying from diarrheal diseases as from HIV/AIDS.

• The average person in the developing world uses 2.64 gallons of water a day. The average person in the United Kingdom uses 35.66 gallons of water per day. The average person in the United States uses between 100 and 175 gallons every day at home.

• More than 40 million hours are wasted each year in Africa alone from women and children gathering water.

• In 1998, 308,000 people died from war in Africa, but more than two million (six times as many) died from diarrheal disease.

• It is estimated that 5.3 billion people, two-thirds of the world’s population, will suffer from water shortages by 2025.


• Every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates a return of $9 in saved time, increased productivity and reduced health costs in Africa.

— United Nations Development Program

• Water is a $400 billion dollar global industry; the third largest behind electricity and oil.

• The UN estimates it would cost an additional $30 billion to provide access to safe water to the entire planet. That’s a third of what the world spends in a year on bottled water.

— CBS News, FLOW

• An estimated 25% of people from cities in developing countries purchase their water from vendors at a significantly higher price than piped water. In some cases, it costs more than a quarter of their household income.

• Due to inadequate sanitation, Nigeria loses $9 billion (20% of its Gross Domestic Product) according to a World Bank study.


• The average American uses 100 to 175 gallons of water per day.

• The average African Family uses 5 gallons per day.

• It takes 5 liters of water to make 1 liter of bottled water.

• Almost 70 percent of the available fresh water gets used for irrigation in agriculture.

• More than half of the water used for irrigation leaks, evaporates or runs off.

• It takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce one quarter pound hamburger (just the meat)

Our Planet

• 20 percent of freshwater fish species have been pushed to the edge of extinction from contaminated water.

• Half of the world’s 500 major rivers are seriously depleted or polluted.

• There are more than 300,000 contaminated groundwater sites in the United States.

• The water we drink today is the same water the dinosaurs drank—there is no new water.

These statistics are generally accepted by United Nation, World Health Organization and Millennium Development Goals.

Unicef/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation


Costing MDG Target 10 on Water Supply and Sanitation, World Water Council, March 2006.  http://www.financingwaterforall.org/fileadmin/Financing_water_for_all/Re…

The 10 most useful organisations on water

Here’s a list of some organisations working on helping people across the world gain access to clean water and sanitation.


Action Water is a unique, innovative charity working on a shoestring. Nevertheless during the last 23 years Action Water has helped well over two and a half million people gain access to safe drinking water and regain a degree of independence.


WaterAid is an international non-governmental organisation dedicated exclusively to the provision of safe domestic water, sanitation and hygiene education to the world’s poorest people.


CARE helps communities build and maintain clean water systems and latrines. Both directly and through local organisations, CARE provides training and subsidizes construction, but communities make significant contributions in cash and labor, and pay the cost of operation and maintenance. The goal of these projects is to reduce the health risks of water-related diseases and to increase the earning potential of households by saving time otherwise spent gathering water. Projects also include educating people about good hygiene habits to reduce the risk of illnesses.


charity: water is a non-profit organisation bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.


ClearWater Initiative is a non-governmental charitable organisation that strives to provide clean, potable water solutions to populations in need. Within 5 years, ClearWater’s vision is to provide access to potable water to 50,000 people. Within 10 years ClearWater will provide clean water to 250,000 people in need. We also hope to begin offering seed grants for simple, innovative projects in complex humanitarian emergencies shortly. The purpose of these small grants will be to provide seed funding for relief professionals looking to develop projects that will advance technical aspects of international disaster response, with an emphasis on provision of essential services for refugees and internally displaced populations. Grant applications will come on-line as soon as we have sufficient funds to support the program.


The European Water Partnership (EWP) is an independent value based non-profit organization structured as an open and inclusive member association. The EWP harnesses European capacity, helps to coordinate initiatives and activities in international water issues and undertakes worldwide promotion of European expertise related to water. The ultimate goal of the EWP is to elaborate strategies and implement concrete actions to achieve the objective.

Thanks to http://blueplanetnetwork.org/

for the statistics and http://100daystochangetheworld.com

for the links


4 thoughts on “Water, water, everywhere And all the boards did shrink Water, water everywhere Nor any drop to drink.”

  1. Richard Duncan Rudin

    Powerful Blog and a call to arms – or rather, anything but arms, which is one of the ‘issues’ many otherwise charitable people worry about when giving money to charities and NGOS – where will it actually end up and could it make the situation worse. This is not an unreasonable view, given the squillions that have been appropriated by vicious tribal and governmental leaders, who arm the and enrich themselves their people, and repress others. The western guilt trip seems absence amongst so many of Africa’s own leaders. The reason why this is not given more prominence (aside from all the usual critiques and theories of ‘what makes news’, Galtung and Ruge, etc.) is precisely because it does seem so big and so intractable. All our lives we have seen reports and appeals on famine, disease and drought in Africa and Asia; billions have been donated by ‘the west’ and still it goes on (I am trying to encapsulate the view of Mr and Mrs Average). We have spasms of conscience, a Geldof here a Bono there and definitely a Gates right in there, but then we hear it;s all worse than ever and think, ‘what;s the point?’ The answer therefore to ‘raising awareness’ is to focus on specific situations: a village, a particular project and then sow the positive effects day by day, week by week, as people give more and more people volunteer. This could be done on TV and/or an Internet project. The trouble is. you will provoke criticism that the wrong project has been selected, or this means it;s even worse elsewhere, but if yo want to engage the mass public (and every journo knows this) you have to make it personal and tangible. You wil l hen of course face criticism that you’ve focussed on the wrong problem and/or as a result, things have got worse somewhere else. Finally (and you might expect me to make this point) even the best-run and best-supported project can only solve a problem in a certain area short-term. If you are going to make the sort of shift we need, then the ‘terms of trade’ need to be addressed, not least the CAP: that obscene racket run by the supposedly humanitarian EU, which has condemned millions to die in the cause of enriching European (mostly French) farmers.

  2. strummerman Post author

    Another succinct analysis Richard, and I know from hearing first hand accounts that the corruption you speak is rife, as is the lack of compassion among those that rule, perhaps there is a reality TV show in there? That said, the scale of the loss of life is just so immense that if it was caused by war or some kind of bird flu type virus I have to feel the world would take a lot more interest and work collectively to deal with the problem.

    My latest idea is golf for Africa:

    “Research suggests the Arab region’s 16 golf courses each use an average of 1.16 million cubic meters of water annually, with as much as 1.3 million cubic meters consumed in Dubai. That’s enough water to meet the needs of 15,000 people. Yet:• The population of the 22-state Arab region has grown from under 50 million to more than 325 million during the last century.”

    “Meanwhile, the region is among the world’s most water-scarce. Average annual water per capita was 977 cubic meters in 2001, below the U.N. definition of water scarcity. This is expected to shrink to 460 cubic meters by 2023. Water use efficiency ranges from 37 percent to 53 percent.”

    Google Desert golf courses: where there’s a well there’s a fairway…

    1. Richard Duncan Rudin

      By coincidence there was a piece on our regional BBC thang last night about a £30 million expansion by Buxton Water to make sure that we can all carry a bottle of water from that delightful town, as opposed to one from our taps, available 24/7 (from now mostly non-UK owned companies, which is disgraceful and irresponsible IMHO, but that;s another issue!) and requiring no more than a few steps in most households. Of course, this is going to produce more jobs, so it’s a hard sell, but how about a campaign for people to donate the money they would have spent on bottled water to one of those projects? By the way, they reckon ‘Vegas and large parts of S California, much of which relies on Lake Mead, have about four or five years left before they will be in serious water-shortage crisis. But of course ‘they;will spend billions on new ways to extract and/or pump water to make sure Sin City and all the golf courses in the Mojave desert will continue.

      Just one more thought – I am no expert on Africa but it seems to me one of the key issues is that the ‘world community’ in form of UN which, as name suggests (!) is predicated around nations; whereas in many parts of Africa the nation is far less important than tribes and ethnic/religious groups, so there is a disjuncture in the way the richer parts of the world – which ARE mostly based around nation-states and supranational groupings – can conceptualise where power/authority lies.

  3. elise

    Thank you for sending us your blog Natalie – great resource for people ….We agree which is why Mindful in May http://www.mindfulimay.org was born…its a way support ourselves to find greater wellbeing and at the same time help alleviate this global problem…Thanks for your support! If you’re interested in joining MIM (and haven’t already signed up) you could create a team and have a bigger collective impact on the water issue


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