When the Water Cooler Runs Dry

Last month at the office, the water cooler ran out and we had to wait three days for a fresh supply. To avoid the dreaded tap water, I brought two water bottles to work, filled with filtered water from home. This got me thinking about how this ubiquitous office perk is such a big deal, while we in the US have perfectly safe tap water. In fact, Seacology has provided 14 fresh water delivery systems to communities that do not have safe and reliable sources of drinking water.

Flooded Water Pump.jpgIn many places around the world, safe water is impossible to find. When I lived in Samoa, the campus had a filtering system and we boiled or treated our water with iodine. It wasn't as dire as in Uganda, where I brushed my teeth with mouthwash instead of water. And travelers can barely touch an ice cube or fruit juice in countries like Mexico and India. The picture at right illustrates one of the problems water shortages can cause: here, a boy in West Bengal, India is pumping water in a flooded area. The Water Encyclopedia says that "floodwaters can contaminate cisterns and improperly designed wells, compounding problems caused by river currents and inundation." And yet here in the United States, we hardly consider what it would be like to live without our tap water - and we still buy expensive bottled water because "it tastes better" or we like the commercials or the pretty packaging.

This year Seacology launched our first project in Kenya, on Wasini Island, where there is no known natural source of fresh water.
Residents have to subsist on brackish water or water transported in containers from the mainland, a very expensive option. Seacology is rehabilitating old containers and providing new water collection tanks to store fresh water on Wasini. Compare this to the perfectly healthy tap water in the Bay Area, and it makes you feel pretty silly for having toted that $1.99 bottle of (insert your favorite brand of water here) to work.

What's more, advocates for fresh water supply argue that water scarcity leads to gender inequality. According to Water Partners International, in Kenya "only 61% of the rural population has access to an improved drinking water source, and the time-intensive pursuit of water collection often prevents women from taking up income generating activities, or in the case of girls, prevents them from attending school." There is even a UN Task Force on Gender and Water to study this, and that's certainly another very strong argument in favor of reliable fresh water.

Wasini Girls.jpgSo next time you're standing around the water cooler gossiping and the bottle runs dry, you can remember those Kenyan children (pictured left), collecting their first taste of fresh water from a water tank provided by Seacology. And take a trip to the tap.


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This page contains a single entry by Ellen Kamoe published on November 18, 2008 3:30 PM.

Fiji Travel With Seacology was the previous entry in this blog.

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