March 19-25, 2012 is world water week. UNICEF’s Tap Project will ask restaurants to ask their customers if they will pay $1.00 for the glass of water that comes with their meal. UNICEF estimates that each dollar is the equivalent of 40 days of clean water for a child. They calculate that 4100 children die daily due to water borne diseases. Approximately 900 million people do not have access to safe water. About 2.5 billion people are without adequate sanitation.
Water access and sanitation cannot be completely resolved because of droughts that regionally affect many parts of the world. On a relative scale it is a problem that can mostly be alleviated with relatively little investment.
When Bill Gates decided to do charitable work on a full time basis he wanted to concentrate on large problems that could be substantially solved in a relatively short period of time. He applied a for- profit project model to charitable work.
There are many fine charities doing excellent work. Nonetheless, some concentrate on long term issues depleting funds that could be targeted at short term problems. Few problems exist in isolation, but charitable work suffers from a lack of centralized prioritization which would first focus resource on large problems which could be substantially resolved relatively quickly. To do this at the UN, the World Bank or other multi-national organization would encounter political squabbling. It might be partially achieveable if foundations cooperatively undertook such a process.
If children had access to clean water and sanitation child mortality would decline. This has been the case with nets and malaria. There are consequences to good results. Feeding an increased population in countries with subsistence farming, poor irrigation or violence becomes a larger problem. These too could be addressed in a logical order.
Clean water and riparian issues loom large as near term issues. It is an undercurrent in political boundary issues, such as between Israel and its neighbors, notwithstanding desalinization plants. It pits farmers against herders; rural residents against urban dwellers; agriculture against industry. Fresh water is not an infinite resource.
So try to conserve and contribute when you can. Next time you run a road race and you reach for water along the route, remember that somewhere in the world a child needs it more than you, and is probably traveling the same or longer distance to get it- if they can.