Another Way to Die: Millions Struggle to Survive Every Day without Access to Clean Water

“This is the world’s most precious natural resource. We need to control as much of it as we can.” –Dominic Greene, Quantum of Solace

I think it is safe to assume that everyone who wanted to watch it has seen Quantum of Solace, the latest James Bond installment (but if you have not, be advised – there are spoilers ahead). The film’s villain is Dominic Greene, environmental philanthropist and major player in “Quantum,” the mysterious global terrorist network. Greene’s plot for world domination involves funding a coup in Bolivia in exchange for a large tract of desert. Both the CIA and MI6 believe he is after oil, and the film leads the audience in the same direction until Mr. Bond and Camille stumble across a massive dam built by Greene’s organization, whose purpose is to control access to, and charge exorbitant amounts of money for, water – “the world’s most precious natural resource.” [End spoilers.]

While the premise, as with all Bond movies, is far-fetched, Mr. Greene is definitely onto something. Water is indeed one of the most precious resources we have, too often taken for granted by those of us who have it in abundance. No clean water means no sanitation, which reduces people to living in illness and squalor – unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause approximately 80% of all diseases in the developing world and kill more people than all forms of violence.1 The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe was the worst in Africa in 15 years, infecting nearly 100,000 people and killing over 4,000. The search for safe water in Bangladesh has led to people depending on arsenic-contaminated wells. In the slums of Nairobi, which have recently attracted attention as destinations for “slum tourism” (whatever that means), residents extort each other by selling water for inflated prices, and excrement crowds the streets.2 Progress on MDG 7 (the “sanitation goal”) has been slow, with many global health experts lamenting that the world will be nowhere close to reaching it by 2015. The concept of not having a toilet can barely be grasped by most people in the developed world, but millions suffer that reality each day.

The UN recognized this critical need by declaring access to clean water to be a human right this summer.3 While this is a good symbolic step, it accomplishes little without concrete action. Attacking this issue is arguably more difficult than some of the other global health issues that attract more attention: digging wells and building toilets is more involved and more expensive than, say, providing mosquito nets for malaria or designing cell phone apps to promote maternal health and prenatal screening. We cannot afford to turn our backs on those who simply do not have what all life on this earth requires. No one deserves to live a life where not having clean water is just another way to die.

This entry was contributed on behalf of Blog Action Day, an annual effort by to unite bloggers in drawing attention to and promoting discussion on an issue that is globally relevant.

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