Monday, August 23, 2010
I've grown up with a love of water. Swimming in it, boating on it, relaxing near it, drinking it. Water brings me peace and gives me life. I've often taken water for granted -- both the free water that I have such easy access to and the affordability and convenience of bottled water.
I've made a lot of changes in terms of my relationship with water and I could be more vigilant yet. To motivate myself and hopefully to educate and motivate others, I've decided to share what I've learned along the way as part of the Healthy Child Healthy World blog carnival on clean water and air solutions.
Water as a human right
In July 2010, the United Nations declared clean water to be a fundamental human right. According to a BBC article on the topic "about 1.5 million children under five die each year from water and sanitation-related diseases" (many of them drinking infant formula that has been mixed with dirty water) and "884 million people have no access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation."
According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) publication The right to water, ensuring that access to clean water is a human right is essential to ensuring that it becomes a reality. Water as a right should mean that:
- fresh water is a legal entitlement, rather than a commodity or service provided on a
- achieving basic and improved levels of access should be accelerated;
- the “least served” are better targeted and therefore inequalities decreased;
- communities and vulnerable groups will be empowered to take part in decision-making
- the means and mechanisms available in the United Nations human rights system
will be used to monitor the progress of States Parties in realizing the right to water
and to hold governments accountable.
Canada, apparently out of concern over its sovereignty over its natural water supply, abstained from the vote on the United Nations motion (which did pass), despite the fact that Canadian water activists say the resolution does not put Canada on the hook for sharing its water resources (source: Montreal Gazette).
This United Nations resolution is important because the availability of a clean water supply is still so uneven around the world, as can be seen in this graph from the WHO's The right to water:
Access to clean water "on tap" is something we take for granted. According to the WHO, when water is provided through a tap in the home, water consumption is around 50 litres per person per day and many households use, for example, up to 30 times more water for child hygeine compared with communities where people have to collect that water from a communal source. Our household consumption of water from our taps could certainly decrease (see Crunchy Domestic Goddess' Five Minute Shower Challenge if you want to try to decrease water consumption in your home).
Although we should reduce our household consumption of water overall, there is one exception. We should be turning our taps on more often to drink up instead of reaching for a bottle from the fridge.
Risks of bottled water
There is a huge market for bottled water. People now understand that it is healthy to drink water and they are decreasing their intake of other beverages in favour of water. Bottled water is convenient and people assume it is better and safer than what comes out of their taps. However, just like the promotion of infant formula (versus breastmilk), the promotion of bottled water comes with a huge advertising budget and a vested interest in trying to convince you that the free stuff isn't good enough. But just because an argument has lots of advertising dollars behind it, doesn't mean it is true.
According to the Mother Nature Network's (MNN)article 5 reasons not to drink bottled water, bottled water sales worldwide amount to between $50 and $100 billion annually and are increasing at an annual rate of 7 percent. This is shocking considering the downside of bottled water.
According to MNN's article, the 5 reasons (described and substatiated in detail in their article) not to drink bottled water are:
- Bottled water isn't a good value
- No healthier than tap water (and in some cases may even be riskier)
- Bottled water means garbage
- Bottled water means less attention to public systems
- The corporatization of water
There are other great articles on this topic too, including Food and Water Watch's Get the Facts on Bottled Water (includes a great video) and the New York Times Bad to the Last Drop by Tom Standage.
Better than bottled
We should be drinking water. Adults and children alike should be decreasing their consumption of sugary and caffeinated beverages and replacing them with water. We should decrease our consumption of bottled water, but that doesn't mean reaching for a bottle of Coca Cola or even a bottle of orange juice instead.
As an alternative to buying bottled water, people should consider the many benefits of purchasing a refillable stainless steel water bottle. Not only will you save money and avoid the other risks of bottled water mentioned above (such as endocrine disruptors leaching from plastic bottles), but you'll be making a much smarter and more sustainable choice. If you like your water colder than it comes out of the tap, purchase several stainless steel bottles so that you can keep a few in the fridge.
Some people may worry about the pollutants that are in their tap water and in some cases they would be right to worry (more action is needed on this front). But if you educate yourself about the water quality in your area (U.S. only) and look into water filtration options, you'll be much better off than purchasing a bottle of water than could come from an unknown tap source and be contaminated with unknown substances.
Fill up at the tap and put your money somewhere better
I mentioned above that the worldwide spending on bottled water is between $50 and $100 billlion annually and growing at 7 percent each year. I also mentioned the water crisis facing much of the developing world. Consider this:
Clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for an outlay of $1.7 billion a year beyond current spending on water projects, according to the International Water Management Institute. Improving sanitation, which is just as important, would cost a further $9.3 billion per year. (ref: Standage, Bad to the Last Drop, New York Times)
Imagine how much good we could do if instead of increasing our consumption of bottled water by 7 percent each year, we found a way to decrease it by 7 percent each year? What if we took the money we would have spent on bottled water and instead donated it to water and sanitation projects in countries in need? All it should take, theoretically, is one year of reversing the trend to ensure that clean water and improved sanitation is available around the world.
We should do this, as individuals, but our governments should be doing this too. According to Inside the Bottle, the Government of Canada spent over $5 million in a five year period buying tap water for locations that have access to safe tap water. The government's purchase of bottled water increased about 70 percent between 2003 and 2009. Just as individuals could opt to spend less on bottled water and put it towards water projects in developing countries, so too could the Government of Canada.
So grab a reusable water bottle. Fill it up at the tap. You'll be doing your health and finances a favour, you'll be doing the environment a favour, and if you do find a way to donate some of the money you saved to water projects in the developing world, you'll be helping those less privileged than us access the most basic of human rights.
I already try to do this, but I'll be trying even harder. I already use a stainless steel water bottle or a glass all the time at home and at work and I send them with my kids to school and carry them in my bag when we go out. But there still are times when we'll crack open a bottle of water because we forgot our own or because we weren't thinking. I'd like to eliminate those scenarios as much as possible and I'd also like to reduce my purchase of non-water bottled drinks (e.g. juices, soft drinks).
I'll be trying harder. Will you join me?
Image credit: greekadman on flickr
P.S. - Do you know a Mom on a Mission? Healthy Child Healthy World wants to honour special and inspiring women in the United States who are dedicated to creating healthier and happier environments for children and families. Nominations close very soon! Get your entry in by August 31, 2010.