World Water Day: How far would you walk for water?

By Kria Sakakeeny
Francisca, a 9-year-old daughter of Marta Chicaj Gutierrez, pours the water she has just fetched into a storage container outside the family's home in Las Joyas, Guatemala in 2016. Photo: Coco McCabe/Oxfam America

Like the air we breathe, water is essential in our lives. But for at least 2.1 billion people, clean water is still out of reach.

Did you know that disease from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kills more people each year than all forms of violence, including war? Did you know that one in four primary schools have no drinking water service, with students using unprotected sources or going thirsty?

What about the fact that women and girls are responsible for water collection in eight out of ten households with water off-premises?

The truth is access to clean water is deeply linked to poverty. And that’s why the theme of this year’s World Water Day is ‘Leave no one behind,’—building off the central promise of Sustainable Development Goal 6 to ensure availability of water to all by 2030. According to the UN, the most marginalized people are often overlooked or face discrimination when trying to access water: women, children, refugees, indigenous people and people with disabilities.

At Oxfam, water is central to almost every aspect of our work—our humanitarian responses, our campaigns, and our long-term initiatives to help families improve their incomes, reduce their vulnerability to disasters, and defend their rights.

This World Water Day we challenged people on the streets of Boston to see how far they could carry 5 gallons of water. On average, women and children in developing countries walk 3.7 miles and carry 5 gallons everyday day to bring clean water home to their families. How far do you walk for water?

In Yemen, more than 2,500 people—many under the age of 5—have died from cholera as the result of poor access to clean water. Since war began in the region, Oxfam has provided humanitarian aid to more than three million people, including repairing water systems and trucking in water to help displaced people and other at-risk communities.

In Syria, we have provided clean water to 2 million people and are working on solid waste management. We are providing around 185,000 gallons of chlorinated water daily in the Teknaf area, Bangladesh, as part of our response to the Rohingya crisis. And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo we have started the construction of a pipeline that will provide safe water to more than 80,000 people.

For Oxfam, tackling the root causes of poverty often means addressing these water-related injustices. Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world, especially for women and girls who spend endless hours fetching water over long distances. That’s why we’re supporting emergency and long-term projects with sustainable solutions to provide safe water and sanitation.

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