persons, places and things: A tall glass of water

Barb Arland-Fye

By Barb Arland-Fye

Servers at the restaurant that my family regularly visits bring two, extra-large glasses of water for my husband and me. Invariably, the glasses remain half-full at the meal’s end. I’ve become more conscious about wasting water as the media makes me more aware of people for whom safe, clean water is a most precious, scarce and expensive resource.

The April 2010 online issue of Catholic Relief Services features a video about efforts to help the people of rural, arid Ethiopia gain access to life-sustaining water. At the beginning of the video, a woman tells how she and other women of her village walked six hours a day to acquire water for their families’ needs. Another woman describes walking four to five miles on rugged terrain, carrying a baby, to get to the closest source of clean water. Her other children were left home alone while she completed this absolutely necessary chore.

Thankfully, CRS is collaborating with partners like the Ethiopian Catholic Church on water projects that provide safe water for drinking, cleaning and irrigating fields. The young mother expressed her gratitude at now being able to keep herself clean. Such a simple thing to be grateful for; I think about how blessed I am each morning to take a warm shower that leaves me feeling clean and refreshed for the day.

Ethiopia is far from being alone in its quest for safe, clean water. The April CRS online issue reports that only 0.01 percent of all water is accessible for drinking and that every 15 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease. While in the United States nearly all homes have multiple taps and flush toilets inside, in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 30 percent have sanitation and running water nearby.


Following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince earlier this year, most of that city’s water infrastructure was destroyed, leaving millions without clean water for their daily needs, CRS said. Once immediate needs for food and shelter were met, CRS began shifting its efforts to long-term water and sanitation support, photojournalist David Snyder reported.

The Web site reports that nearly one billion people around the world don’t have clean drinking water and 2.6 billion still lack basic sanitation. Eighteen years ago, the United Nations established World Water Day — celebrated March 22 — to focus attention on the world’s water crisis and solutions to address it.

U.S.-based organizations, which includes CRS, have banded together to call for a stronger commitment from governments, the private sector and U.S. citizens for water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives in low-income countries.

The Ecumenical Water Network observes that water increasingly “is treated as a commercial good subject to market conditions. Many cases can be cited where privatization of water resources has deprived the poor from access to water.”

Efforts to make change can begin with us, as an article by Celine Klosterman in this week’s Catholic Messenger shows. An Iowa man developed a handheld, water purification device that is helping people in Tanzania to have lifesaving, clean water.

“Water is the most important thing in Tanzania,” Father Mansuetus Setonga told Klosterman. “When you have clean water, you will solve a lot of health problems,” said the Tanzanian priest who is studying in Iowa City.

The next time my family and I visit our favorite restaurant, I’ll ask for a smaller-sized glass of water and savor it.

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