When I was in India this past May with Mom Bloggers for Social Good, I saw firsthand how safe drinking water and sanitation needs impact people living in extreme poverty. I spent a scorching afternoon with temperatures climbing almost to 120 degrees Fahrenheit touring one of WaterAid’s work sites, an unauthorized slum named the Vivekananda Camp.

Vivekananda Camp.

Women living outside the Vivekananda Camp, an unauthorized slum that ironically is located right behind the walls of the American Embassy in Delhi.

At this one location, the people had been fortunate to finally receive somewhere safe and hygienic to use the bathroom. A community toilet compound. Although the slum did not have running water, at least it had somewhere people could go to take care of their bodily needs and help eliminate the spread of deadly diseases and the horrible humiliation of open defecation.

As I stood outside the Community Toilet Complex (CTC), I couldn’t help but rest my eyes on a painfully slow-moving woman. A woman who had undoubtedly spent her entire life living within the confines of a slum. She was hunched over and bent on her cane and slowly dragged her feet across the ground, one step at a time, as she left the Community Toilet Complex we had just toured.

Woman in the Vivekananda Camp

In the Vivekananda Camp, an unauthorized slum of approximately 500 households, there is no running water, no sewer lines and people live in absolute dire circumstances. Thanks to WaterAid, improvements to sanitation have been made by the building of a Community Toilet Complex (CTC), a compound containing 20 toilets for women, 20 for men and a few for children as well as a couple of showers, providing some sort of dignity in a place where dignity hardly exists.

My gaze followed her snail-paced movements with sorrow and dismay, wondering how on earth she had managed all these years living in such deplorable conditions, many of which she lived without a proper toilet and no running water. It made me realize how incredibly unfair life can be. Millions of people live without safe drinking water and sanitation all over the world. It is a tragic reality that is hard to believe. Yet we can change it.

Worldwide, 768 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. 2.5 billion people, or nearly 36% of the world’s population, live without improved sanitation.

Source: WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water and Sanitation. Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water: 2013 Update. Available at http://www.wssinfo.org/data-estimates/introduction/

The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act 2013

In early August, a piece of legislation was reintroduced into the US Government that aims to address the water shortage around the world and help improve the inequities and change the lives for millions. The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act is bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressmen Blumenauer (D-OR) and Judge Poe (R-TX) that responds to this critical moment in time and opportunity by making better use of existing clean water and sanitation funds, improving international development efforts, and enhancing other foreign policy objectives.

“Every day, the world becomes more crowded, with fewer freshwater resources, and increased complexity when trying to achieve equitable access to this resource which is most fundamental to human life”.

-Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-OR.
– Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-OR

Why we should act now

It has been argued by many scholars, lawmakers and top governmental agencies, that the water crisis impedes US national security and foreign policy goals in many way including poverty reduction, crisis mitigation, disaster response, women’s empowerment and economic growth. Furthermore, investing in clean drinking water, safe toilets and hygiene education is one of the most effective and efficient things that we can do to boost impact on whole range of global challenges, ranging from child health and nutrition, to conservation and education.

Economically, investing in water and sanitation is a good deal. For every $1 invested in clean water, sanitation and hygiene, at least $4 is returned in saved health care costs and increased economic productivity. Research estimates that providing toilets alone to everyone who needs it would return $220 billion each year to the global economy. It is proven too that investments in safe drinking water and toilets have broad-reaching benefits at home and around the world.*

Now it an opportune moment to harness support for a US and global leadership on providing water for the water. It is true we are living in a complex world with many competing thoughts on how to make it a better place. Yet isn’t providing water and sanitation one of the most basic human rights to life? We can make a difference and impact how millions are living around the world.

*Author’s note on the source of information: All the above information about Water for the World is from WaterAid. I have used most of WaterAid’s verbiage with permission and have included it here to educate readers on what the legislation is all about. The documentation about my personal experiences in India and viewpoints are my own. 

What you can do to help:

If you are a US resident, check to see the position of your Member of Congress on supporting the Water for the World Act. Learn more and spread the word. To write to your Member of Congress on an easy to complete form, click here.

To learn more about the Water for the World act, click here.

Related post:

In the Background: Life in of a Delhi Slum

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  1. I don’t know about a bill to fix it. When does Congress ever do anything without overspending and the money not getting where it needs to go. I do know of an acquaintance that has an idea for a safe water system he wants to spread around the world though. His name is Thomas Maxwell.

    1. Hi Brad:

      Thanks so much for your comment! I do appreciate it! One thing to note is that this piece of legislation has already been approved and it is being reintroduced with some changes. I wholeheartedly agree that we spend a lot of money in which a lot is wasted. However, I do believe that we already have the resources in place to better the current water and sanitation in place around the world and it is something we should do.

      I wanted to get more clarification from WaterAid’s policy expert on the bill and its implications. Here is what they sent me (As I’m learning too!). Also, I would love to learn more about Thomas Maxwell and his work. I haven’t heard of him before.

      Here is the information from WaterAid that will hopefully answer your questions more thoroughly:

      · It is of course true that prioritizing how, whether and when the US government spends its money has been a top priority of Congress for several years. There are no easy answers, but ending all international aid spending won’t advance the US role in the world nor will it help advance our moral authority with the poorest countries and communities. Ultimately, wise and strategic spending of taxpayer dollars on helping the poor is good for US national security, global economic stability, and US diplomatic relationships, as well as being core to our philanthropic national identity. But it must be done strategically.
      · The goal of the Water for the World Act is to be smarter and more effective with the funds currently being spent on safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene programs in the poorest countries and communities worldwide. It will not add any expenditures to the US government.
      · Water for the World will help ensure the money currently being spent will get where it needs to go, so that it is more effective and efficient and guards against misuse or waste of taxpayer dollars. It will do this by creating specific requirements to guide USAID in choosing where to spend money for safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene programs, and requiring the government to publish its choices, reasons, and impact so we can all see for ourselves.
      · Water for the World uses criteria such as the number of people living without sanitation or safe drinking water; the number of children dying from preventable water-related disease like malnutrition or trachoma (the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world, spread by a fly that only breeds on exposed human feces, which of course wouldn’t happen if everyone had a toilet!); and the length of time that women and girls spend collecting water instead of going to school or work. These criteria will help the US government focus on those people who need our assistance the most, so that instead of spending some money that has major impact and other money that has mediocre impact, we use money wisely and can demonstrate that the US is really making a difference in the lives of the poor.
      · Water for the World recognizes that safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene are critical investments for the US government. They are foundations of many other foreign policy goals of the United States, including prevention of conflict and violence against women and girls, ending preventable child deaths so that all children have the same opportunities we hope for our own children, and even helping girls get into school and stay there. USAID remains committed to these programs. There is always room to do better, and Water for the World will help advance these basic services and do better in the process.

  2. Re: “Worldwide, 768 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. 2.5 billion people, or nearly 35% of the world’s population, live without improved sanitation. Source: WaterAid”, the source is not WaterAid. You quote them but they quote the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, who calculated these estimates. (Actually, there are little errors too… e.g. the second sentence should not say “nearly 35%” but “36%”. Please see wssinfo.org, and the 2013 estimates http://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/JMPreport2013.pdf.

    1. Thanks! I should have clarified. My source for the written text in this part was the factsheet sent from WaterAid but they do indeed use other sources to gather their information. I will clarify this in the post. I may have mistyped the 35 versus 36% so I will go back and revise. Thanks for pointing this out! All the info was sent to me by WaterAid. I will check out this report too! 🙂

    1. No worries. I did know that the source isn’t exactly WaterAid but WaterAid’s factsheet here:

      Their sheet says the 35% which is where I got the number. I did correct my post to say the correct source instead of just “WaterAid” meaning the Fact Sheet.

      Anyway, thanks again for pointing this out! 🙂 I appreciate it! 🙂

  3. Nicole, thanks for opening our eyes to these issues and unbelievable statistics. As Restlessjo commented above, it’s all too easy to turn our back on these issues and pretend they don’t exist. You, on the other hand, want to scream it out to the world and make us care! A very well-written post! I hope it inspires some of us to get involved in any way we can.

  4. Hello. I’m part of a charity trying to raise money to give water to 50,000 thirsty, impoverished people.

    Please spare a few moments to read through some stats:
    • There are nearly 1 billion people in the world that don’t have clean, safe water.
    • The women and children that collect water spend approximately 40 billion hours getting it.
    • This detracts from their ability to do other work, or get an education.
    • It takes $20 to supply one of these people with a clean water supply.
    • Each dollar spent provides an economic return of $12.
    • Not least because of the drop in medical care and infant mortality.
    • Can you spare a single dollar for this campaign to bring clean water to 50,000 people?
    • That’s less than a third of the price of a cup of coffee.
    • All money goes to providing water not to admin costs or profit.

    Please see:

    If you can’t spare a single dollar, please pass this message on to others who might.


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