"So many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
~ Christopher Reeve

Friday, October 15, 2010

Water Water Everywhere?

Once upon a time.

Once upon a time, I use to be heavily involved in international development issues, particularly as they related to children.  Yup, that's my catch, children.  Always has been, likely always will be.

But in my pre-disability days, before I knew what an IPP was, long before I had ever heard of a Program Planning Team (let alone knew that I was to be a member of many) ... I was involved with a group called Results Canada.

Results (they are active in many countries around the world including Australia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom and the United States) is a volunteer political action group dedicated to "creating the political will to end global poverty and needless suffering, and to demonstrating that individuals make a difference when they exercise their political influence".  It was pure political advocacy work - coordinating a media strategy; letters, letters and more letters to newspapers and politicians; community outreach and fundraising to keep the mostly volunteer organization going.

It was good work, work where you felt you might just be making a difference in the world.  I once had a politician ask me why I, personally, was involved in this work.  I walked him to my office and silently pointed to the picture on my desk of my then 3-month-old child. Enough said.  He got it.

Can one person really make a difference? Yes, I believe they can.  And how many times is that difference magnified when that one person works in unison with others of a like mind?

But life took over - a challenged child with a significant health issue sucked up much of my time and emotional and mental energy.  And as she grew (particularly as she got closer to school age), I realized that a person can only do so much.  And it seemed that there was much I could and should be doing to help others right here in my own Province.  I still supported (and continue to support) what Results is trying to accomplish but my political activity shifted much closer to home as I focused on assisting challenged children and their families navigate our province's educational and community services, to ensure that they had access to the services they are entitled to.

But then I received an email last week - an email "reminding" me that this year's Blog Action theme is water - access to clean water in developing countries, the over-consumption of water in developed countries, water and the environment and "water solutions".  One item in particular in that list struck a chord in me - and you might just guess why based on my previous involvement with Results.

One of the many issues we dealt with at Results was access to clean water - can there be any more basic a need?  Monthly actions and ongoing campaigns were picked based on strategic opportunity, political climate, context, and impact and issues were usually ones where there was a proven, cost-effective solution and for which there are not many champions.  Issues like child and maternal health, sanitation and hygiene, primary education and microfinance - that last of which is an amazing subject, by the way, well deserving of its own post. Perhaps for another day.


Did You Know?
Did you know that unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war?  Water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week.

That more people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet? Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets. This means that sewage spills into rivers and streams, contaminating drinking water and causing disease.

That every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water? They do this while carrying cisterns weighing around 40 pounds when filled in order to gather water that, in many cases, is still polluted.

That it takes 6.3 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger? That 6.3 gallons covers everything from watering the wheat for the bun and providing water for the cow to cooking the patty and baking the bun.

That the average North American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world? From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, we use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. 

While these facts may be grim, there is hope for real solutions as more and more people around the world are waking up to the clean water crisis. Earlier this year, the UN declared access to clean water a human right and groups like charity: water and Water.org continue to work tirelessly to bring water access to the developing world.

No, I am not advocating that we all dress in ashes and sackcloth and repent for our sin of living in an industrialized country.  I know I'm not going to anyway!

What I am suggesting is awareness - it's been a long time since I, myself, have turned my mind to these issues on anything approaching a regular basis and when I looked today at the statistics on how many children die every day from lack of primary health care and clean water or for the want of simple and cost-effective interventions such as breastfeeding, prevention of mother-to child transmission of HIV, immunization, micro-nutrients, and oral rehydration therapy to treat diarrhea .... it makes me very very sad.  It reminds me of just how lucky my family and I are.  Despite the challenges we face. And it turns my mind back to the obligation we, who have so much, have to those who have so little.

Margaret Mead is famous for the words, "Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  

That's one of my favourite quotes; I often apply it to the work we, as parents, do on behalf of our challenged children.  And yet, every once in a while, I think we must stop.  And remind ourselves of what our children's lives might be like had they not been lucky enough to be born in a country like Canada.  To think for a moment, no matter how much that thought might pain us, of what their life might be like had they been born in a developing country.

Whether we actively work in concert with those of like mind (be it paid or volunteer), teach and remind all our children that there is a much, much bigger world than that they can see from their back yard or direct our attention on occasion to those charities with a proven track record of dealing successfully with some of the most basic of human needs around the world, I believe know we all have a part to play.

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