World Water Day

Today is World Water Day. There are approximately 7.4 billion people in the world today; 2.1 billion of them live without safe drinking water at home. It is fairly easy to forget this when you turn on the tap and can reasonably assume that something safe to drink will come out into your glass.

Today would be a good time for me to reflect on what I would do if I turned on the tap and nothing came out, or something came out which I would not feel safe drinking. Where would I go for water? To the store, of course. And if there were no stores? I guess I would have to go to the river. How long would it take me to walk there and back with a container of water on my head? Even then, what I carried back would probably not be safe to drink without boiling or otherwise purifying. If I were a woman in a resource-limited country, my average walk would be 6 kilometers per day to collect water; in some parts of Africa, this task can take as much as eight hours per day.

The situation would not be a fanciful mental exercise but would be one of the major burdens in my everyday life. Diarrheal diseases are currently the second-leading cause of death in low-income countries and are commonly associated with contaminated water. Caring for severely-dehydrated children with diarrheal illnesses is a daily challenge in mission medicine. Sometimes, when providing medical care in mission lands, the best preventative medicine is a childhood vaccine; other times it is just a glass of clean water.

Dr. Tim Cavanagh

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