04 May 2012

Why Can't Water Get No Respect?

Matt Damon with Water.org CamelBak Groove bottle 
We take it for granted, yet we can't live with out it. We are made of water -- more than 60 percent water.

But so is the clothing we wear and the food and drink we consume.

Think about it. A pair of stonewashed jeans takes roughly 500 gallons of water, including growing, dyeing and processing the cotton. A t-shirt? 700 gallons. The cup of coffee I'm drinking as I write this? 35 gallons. A pint of beer? 20 gallons. 

Over 130 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda (not sure if that counts making the bottle itself); and that hamburger adds another 630 gallons.

Pretty twisted, huh?

According to water.org, the average American uses 176 gallons of water per day compared to 5 gallons of water the average African family uses each day.

That five-minute shower my teenage son takes uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day -- if they can get access.

Last night, water.org received the World Social Impact Award from the World Policy Institute at its 50th Anniversary celebration.

Those of us in the audience were grouped by issues and asked to get into dialogue with our table mates. I sat at one of the water tables.

We were led in our discussion by Sanjay Bhatnagar of WaterHealth International and Dr. Upmanu Lall, the Alan and Carol Silberstein Professor of Engineering at Columbia University and director of the Columbia Water Center.

Our table quickly came up with a critical question: Why can't water get no respect?

Water is the Rodney Dangerfield of natural resources. And yet it's critical to our lives and livelihoods; indeed, our very survival depends on it.

We didn't have any answers, other than the usual fact that water isn't priced appropriately and it is relatively abundant. Perhaps we need price signals like we have for oil that tell us how much our water actually costs, one of our group suggested.

Dr. Lall shared with us some research he's privy to concerning a technology that may solve the production of clean drinking water. But our group was pretty clear that access will continue to be an issue that we need to address.

And that's why organizations like water.org -- although they may be just a drop in the bucket of needs -- are so important and deserving of recognition.