A Sermon For World Water Day 2011
We Don't Honor God when 4500 children die every day. But they do ... from the lack of something so simple, each of us takes it for granted each day -- a clean glass of water. 4500 children -- that means every 20 seconds, one child dies, that little life extinguished. But you've probably not heard that tragic statistic because the lack of safe water is the greatest under-recognized global humanitarian crisis we face and its impact is staggering. 4500 children really do die every single day from water-related illnesses, and that is just the tip of this very unhealthy iceberg.
Almost a billion people do not have access to safe water globally and 2.5 billion lack the dignity of basic sanitation. This lack of access translates into more staggering numbers: 80 percent of all disease is related to a lack of sanitation and at any given time, half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases. We are acutely aware of the plight of starvation and all too familiar with the heart-wrenching pictures of distended malnourished bellies. But did you know that 50 percent of that malnutrition is due to a lack of safe water -- 50 percent! This water crisis kills more children than malaria, AIDS, and TB combined, resulting in a catastrophic 2 million, mostly preventable deaths, every year. Think about it this way -- we fight against malaria but poor sanitation increases breeding in malaria-carrying mosquitoes. We work to make sure HIV/AIDS patients get the anti-retroviral drugs they need to sustain life, but already susceptible to disease, they must take these drugs with unsafe water. Not prioritizing the global water crisis defies logic.
This pervasive level of illness prevents productivity and increases poverty. And inequality -- especially for girls and women because water is a woman's burden around the world. Not only can women spend up to 60 percent of their day walking to collect water, their bodies quite literally break down from hauling the heavy forty-plus pound water jugs every day, sometimes along desolate and unsafe paths, so their families can have something to cook and clean with and drink. Even if it is dirty and unsafe. Girls are denied education when forced to leave school to help their mothers with this heavy burden. And when there is no gender appropriate sanitation facilities to take care of their personal needs, they often drop out of school.
Access to safe water even impacts war and peace: the potential for conflict over water rights, and more importantly, the potential for negotiated peace. Here's perhaps the greatest shame of all: This problem is solvable.
And our religions are already a part of the solution. Secular and nonsecular water development field work is happening around the world. But these projects need to be dramatically ramped up with far wider, sustained support.