By Barb Arland-Fye
Water seems abundant when I look out my window and see the Mississippi River reflecting the brilliant blue sky and when the waiter at the restaurant returns multiple times to refill my water glass. Even the power outage we experienced a few weeks ago in LeClaire left me only temporarily inconvenienced. Within three hours I could run the faucet again and flush the toilet (our water comes from a well). Last summer’s widespread drought seems a distant, miserable memory, too.
But the emails arriving ever more frequently in my “inbox” at the office and at home remind me to not take access to water for granted. Millions of people around the world lack access to this basic necessity of life, and World Water Day – March 22 – calls attention to that fact and compels us to do something about it.
Catholics Confront Global Poverty Action Center, an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), posted a message urging its email recipients to contact our U.S. House representatives to support the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2013, H.R. 2901.
Introduced Aug. 1, that legislation seeks to strengthen implementation of a 2005 bill to provide first-time or improved access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene to the world’s poorest people on an accessible and sustainable basis.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Water and Development Strategy receives praise in the Library of Congress summary of the new bill, which seeks to build on that strategy. The bill calls for designation of a global water coordinator to coordinate and oversee water, sanitation and hygiene assistance and, through a water resources special advisor, to develop a global water resources strategy relating to U.S. foreign policy objectives.
“The lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation has a disproportionate impact on women and girls throughout the world,” reports Catholics Confront Global Poverty Action Center. “Collecting water takes hours each day. It keeps women and girls from work and school. It exposes them to violence by putting them in isolated places. It causes accidents and injury. Together, lack of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene causes illness and preventable death, including from diarrhea, pneumonia, stunting and undernutrition. The bottom line is that low levels of access to water and sanitation keep families in poverty.”
The center’s partners have been working with communities to expand access to water, hygiene and sanitation in more than 40 countries worldwide. Such efforts promote health and well-being, increase agricultural production, emphasize conservation, assist communities during emergencies and prevent conflict, the center notes.
WASH Advocates, a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative dedicated to helping solve the global safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene challenge, reports that “768 million people – almost entirely the poorest and most marginalized in the world – live without access to safe drinking water.” Another “2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation (a pit latrine or better); that’s about 40 percent of the world’s population” (www.washadvocates.org).
Pope Francis noted that “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.” (www.vatican.va., Dec. 26, 2013).
The Holy Father’s message gives me something to think about during this Lenten season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I’ll contact with my U.S. House Representative about that water legislation, make a contribution to CRS and say a prayer for those who lack access to water when I turn on the tap.