Sunday, February 28, 2010

Social Justice Challenge: "In The World of Water, We Are All Downstream"

2010 Social Justice Reading Challenge

The Social Justice Challenge asks participants to learn about a different theme of social justice each month by reading or participating in other forms of media that focus on that theme. This month's theme is Water. This month I took part in one of the other forms of media - the Water H2O=Life Online Resource. The online resource was developed from an exhibit that was at the American Museum of Natural History . It provides a very accessible review of the issues that impact a clean, reliable supply of water and emphasizes the role of water in all living things.

We were asked to reflect on the following questions:

1. What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you think of Water as a social justice issue?

When I think about water as a social justice issue, I think about the developing world where there is a lack of reliable drinking water and the tremendous impact that has on the health of the population. The lack of clean water has a disproportionate impact on the world's poor - potable water is needed to bring people out of poverty. For that reason, improving access to clean water and basic sanitation is one of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. Consider these facts from
  • 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease
  • 43% of water-related deaths are due to diarrhea
  • 84% of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 – 14
  • 98% of water-related deaths occur in the developing world
  • The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
  • At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease.
  • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the typical person living in a developing country slum uses in a whole day
  • About a third of people without access to an improved water source live on less than $1 a day. More than two thirds of people without an improved water source live on less than $2 a day
  • Poor people living in the slums often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city
2. What, if any, exposure have you personally had to a water shortage?

I have not personally been exposed to a water shortage but I have traveled in countries without reliable access to clean drinking water. While in India earlier this year, I relied completely on bottled water and realized I was fortunate enough to be able to ensure I always had bottled water while much of the population did not have that "luxury". It made me aware of how I take the availability of clean water straight from the tap for granted at home.

What potential action steps can you think of that relate to this month’s theme of Water?

  • Continue to educate myself about this issue using a variety of resources such as Columbia's Earth Institute and
  • Raise awareness of this issue among family, friends, colleagues and via my blog
  • Water is a right but conservation is a responsibility - make changes in my daily life to reduce the amount of water I use including using a refillable water bottle in place of bottled water


  1. Very impressive. I had seen the button for the social justice awareness around but wasnt sure what it was about. Your post was extremely informative, relevant, and something that we all need to be made more aware of every single day. Thank you for your post. I'm going to check out their site and see about joining the social justice awareness movement myself. Way to spread the love!

  2. Great post - a lot to think about. I remember when I first moved to California was the first time I actually had to think about water being a limited resource (I moved here during a huge drought). I grew up on the East coast and always had taken water for granted.

  3. Oh man, I have been so remiss with the social justice challenge so far - have to change that in March! Great post! I once took a class entirely about water resources in developing countries - it's really eye-opening to realize what an effect clean water, something we all take for granted, can have.

  4. Thanks for the pointer towards the Water H2O=Life resource - I definitely want to delve in further!