March 22 is World Water Day. You may be reading this article after the fact. It doesn't matter, because the state of affairs today will be largely the same as each day since the event was created in 1993: Every 24 hours, 1,000 children will die from drinking unsafe water.
They'll die from diarrhea, the result of drinking water so filthy most of us would be shocked to see it even in our toilets. They'll die in remote villages and crowded urban slums. They'll die in areas too poor to afford the inexpensive medicines which might save their lives, or the $200 it takes to dig a safe and modern water well. Mostly, they'll die in the Southern Hemisphere.
And these are just the children. Here, a decade into the 21st century, humanity's most pressing health need remains access to sanitary, fresh water. It sounds like such a simple thing. But without clean water, economies crumble. Livestock dies, and it becomes impossible to grow even basic staples. The lack of safe water is the mother of famine, disease, poverty and warfare. Some 2.6 billion people live in squalid conditions, without access to even basic sanitation.
It can happen to you, too
While water issues are particularly acute in the developing world, shifting climate patterns and soaring demand are creating significant shortages across the planet. In 2007, the city of Atlanta was nearly brought to a standstill when Lake Lanier, the area's primary water supply, dropped to its lowest levels in a century.
In the U.S., Southwestern states are contending with a multi-year drought that threatens the region's growth. Depletion of groundwater resources in Mexico City has gotten to the stage that geological faulting has damaged portions of the city's historic center. And hundreds of Australians died this summer when lack of rainfall created the conditions for devastating wildfires.
What you can do
World Water Day is an opportunity to step back for a moment and consider a commodity many people take for granted. It's as easy to forget water's value when you have it, as it is to never forget your thirst when you don't.
Want to help set things right? Consider some of these actions:
Respect your water. If the water that comes out of your tap is clean and affordable, be thankful. Be thankful when you drink it. Be thankful when you wash with it. Be thankful when you cook with it. Every time you open a faucet, remember that you're doing something beyond the reach of almost 3 billion people.
Conserve. An ample water supply today is no guarantee that it will be there tomorrow. Groundwater aquifers take hundreds of years to replenish. Do your part — you'll be saving money, anyway. Install water-saving showerheads. Plant drought-resistant gardens, and irrigate them — if at all possible — with harvested rainwater. Find leaks in your home and repair them. Take shorter showers. Replace old washing machines and dishwashers with water-saving, EnergyStar-rated appliances. Never send anything to a landfill you wouldn't want in your drinking water 10 years from now. There are plenty of water conservation resources on the Web. We'd like to recommend our own 5 cheap ways to save 1,000 gallons of water.