Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Blogging for Clean Water

Most travelers are used to conducting at least some parts of their lives non-traditionally. In exchange for giving up a permanent place of residence, taking a career break, living out of a suitcase or a backpack and being disoriented by rapid shifts in culture, we see things that other people don't. We interact with people whose lifestyles are 180 degrees from what our native cultures think of as "comfortable." And, depending on where we travel, we can bear witness to the devastation brought to a society by the lack of what most of the Western world considers basic necessities: education, transportation, plentiful food, adequate healthcare and ready access to clean water. It's the last of those that is often the most heartbreaking.

I don't know about you, but the first thing I reach for in the morning is water. If I'm on the road and don't know when I'm next going to have a chance to eat, I might get cranky, but it's not that big a deal. If I'm running low on drinking water and don't know where I'm going to be able to stock up, however, I get worried. But my worries pale in the face of global water statistics:
  • 109 million. That's the total number of hours walked by women and children in Africa every day in search of water to use for cooking, cleaning, washing and drinking. If they can find the water they need, it's often from muddy ponds or watering holes, polluted by animal and human waste. So in addition to keeping children out of school and women from working to establish a business, the perpetual search for water leads them to sources that often make them ill.
  • 42,000. That's the number of people who die each week from water-borne diseases or lack of access to water worldwide. That adds up to more in a year than all violent deaths worldwide combined, including those caused by war. And the worst part? 90% of those deaths, weekly, are children under the age of five.
  • $12.8 billion. That's the amount (USD) polluted coastal waters and the health problems they cause cost the global economy every year.
  • 1 in 8. That's the number of people, worldwide, who don't have access to clean water.
Water - access to clean sources, preservation, conservation and awareness of the issue - is a global problem, and it's going to take a global solution to set it right. The travel community, made up of people who have lived in the Western world, where water is taken for granted, many of whom have also lived in or visited parts of the world where water is scarce, can offer a unique perspective. Today, I challenge you use it. Here's what I hope we, as travelers - from round-the-world nomads to casual vactioners - can do:
  1. Raise awareness. Visiting a community that has to go to extreme lengths to get water, clean or otherwise? Take photos and share them with the people you know. Staying at a resort or couchsurfing at a home that has a unique way of conserving water? Blog about it. If you have a permanent place of residence, talk to your city council, homeowners' association or building management to see if any of the solutions you've seen are feasible for your area.
  2. Lend a hand. Helping local cultures directly can be tricky, especially for transitory visitors. What's easy is bringing the plight of a place you've been to the attention of people whose business it is to help. Groups like charity: water, Ryan's Well Foundation and work tirelessly to find clean water solutions for communities around the world, but they can't help if they don't know where there's a problem. A simple email could be the catalyst for setting a clean water project in motion for a community you've visited - so send it! And if you have a little cash you can spare, make a donation.
  3. Monitor your usage. Most long-term travelers are conservationists by nature of the way they live: they don't buy a lot of products that take exorbitant amounts of water to produce or run (clothing, electronics, kitchen appliances) and they're conscious of their water usage for bathing, washing clothes, etc. because they're usually sharing facilities with others. But the more traditional travel industry (chain hotels, luxury resorts, cruiseships, etc.) uses exorbitant amounts of water every day. Talk to your concierge to find out if it's possible to have your linens changed every three or four (or five...) days if you're going to be in the same place for a while, rather than every day. If you're visiting a place where the water is safe to drink, bring a reusable bottle with you for water, or buy a large bottle your first day and reuse it for several days.
Most of us take water for granted, even if we occasionally have to do without for longer than we'd like during our travels, or buy bottled water to do simple things like brush our teeth. Imagine living every day weighing how much water you have or can find against all of the things you need to do with it. Imagine cooking your dinner in a pot filled with brown water that you know is likely to make you sick. Imagine not being able to reach for a drink of water when you're thirsty. Imagine that, and join me in doing what you can to raise awareness and bring clean water to the people who need it most.

This post was written as part of's Blog Action Day 2010. There are more than 4,690 blogs in 135 countries participating right now - to add yours, click here. Blog Action Day 2010 is also taking place on Twitter, using hashtag #BAD10. To read a post about the water crisis geared more toward a U.S.-based audience than the travel community, visit There Is No Spoon.

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