What do you need to do to access clean drinking water? For most of us reading this article, all we need to do is turn on the tap and voila – instant access to clean drinking water. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for nearly one billion people. According to www.water.org, in Africa alone, 345 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. In South East Asia, East Asia and Oceania, the number is 200 million. In developed countries, the number drops to 10 million.
Here are some sobering water facts from the website:
• More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all deaths, 99 percent, occur in the developing world.¹
• “[The water and sanitation] crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.”²
• Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent to that caused by a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.³
The water crisis is particularly detrimental for women and children. Women in developing countries spend countless hours collecting water for daily use. In fact, globally, each day, women spend 200 million hours collecting water. It’s arduous, back-breaking work and often the water they do collect from polluted sources is contaminated.
“Surveys from 45 developing countries show that women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection in the vast majority of households (76%). This is time not spent working at an income-generating job, caring for family members or attending school.” 4
When girls drop out of school to help their female relatives collect water, this keeps them trapped in a cycle of poverty. Additionally, the very dignity and safety of women is impacted by the water and sanitation crisis. One in three women do not have access to toilets (www.water.org). The recent gang rape and murder of two teenage cousins in India stemmed from this bleak reality.
“Those two cousins, just 14 and 16 years old, had left their homes in the Indian village of Katra, in Uttar Pradesh, because they had no toilet at home. They were never to return, found hanging from a tree after being brutally attacked.” (The Guardian)
This is not a problem isolated to India; a WaterAid study showed that in the slums of Lagos in Nigeria, a quarter of women who did not have private access to toilets encountered threats of violence or actual assault. Similar studies have been released by Amnesty International from countries like Kenya and the Solomon Islands.
From these bleak examples, it’s clear that the water and sanitation crisis has far-reaching impacts on millions of people.
What can we do to help?
Those of us who live in developed countries have been blessed with many resources, such as wealth, time, health and safety. With these blessings, we are able to reach out and support those who do not have access to clean water. When you set aside money for charity, make it a point to direct a portion of your funds towards creating safe sources of water for those in need. Donating only $25 to www.water.org, for example, will give one person access to clean water for life.
As individuals and communities, let’s start fundraising to build wells for villagers who struggle to access clean drinking water. These following organisations help to build wells:
Abu Hurairah (RA) reported: the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “Charity does not decrease wealth, no one forgives except that Allah increases his honour and no one humbles himself for the sake of Allah except that Allah raises his status.” (Sahih Muslim)
Here’s a list of what you can do to reduce your water footprint:
1. Install water-saving shower heads and limit your showers to
2. Install water-saving flushes.
3. Install a rainwater harvesting system in your home.
4. Wait until your dishwasher is fully loaded before running it.
5. Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth.
6. Dedicate one day a week when you run the washing machine.
7. If possible, install a compost toilet in place of the conventional ones.
8. Teach your children about the value of water.
9. Make the intention to raise funds to build a well.
10. While making du’a, remember those who don’t have access to clean water and sanitation.
From a permaculture design perspective, installing a greywater system in your home is an excellent way to conserve water.
Greywater is defined as used water from our homes which has not come in contact with human waste. Even though greywater may look murky and contain traces of food or dirt, it can actually be really good for our gardens. Diverting greywater to our gardens instead of our rivers and seas is a win-win strategy – our plants get natural fertiliser and our waterways won’t be as polluted. To make this possible, it’s important to first have a household which is committed to using non-toxic soaps and detergents. This means not using shampoos and cleaners with ingredients we can’t pronounce! What we pour down our drains will come out of our pipes and into our gardens.
The simplest way to use greywater is to pipe it out of our homes, using gravity and into our fruit trees and ornamental trees. The greywateraction.org website describes the simplest way of greywater usage: “Washing machines are typically the easiest source of greywater to reuse because greywater can be diverted without cutting into existing plumbing. Each machine has an internal pump that automatically pumps out the water – you can use that to your advantage to pump the greywater directly to your plants.”
I think of rainwater harvesting as having sponges on my roof and garden. These ‘sponges’ catch, slow down and conserve water that would otherwise become run-off. Imagine what you can do with stored rainwater during times of drought.
In Malaysia, many people are skeptical about rainwater because of the fear of acid rain. The solution is simple. Place some limestone into your rainwater harvesting system to neutralise any acidity. Rainwater will then be perfectly safe for you to use.
All in all, there is so much we can do on as communities and individuals to help alleviate the global water crisis. I pray that Allah Most High grants us success in our endeavours to conserve water and help those affected by the global water and sanitation crisis.
1: World Health Organisation (WHO). (2008). Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, benefits and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health; Updated Table 1: WSH deaths by region, 2004.
2: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2006). Human Development Report 2006, Beyond Scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis.
3: Estimated with data from Diarrhoea: Why children are still dying and what can be done. UNICEF, WHO 2009.
4: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. (2010). Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water, 2010 Update.
Raidah Shah Idil is a writer, poet and counselling student based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her work has been published in The Feminist Wire, Daily Life, Lip Mag and Venture Beat. Her debut double-featured novel, “Finding Jamilah and The Story of Yusuf,” was published by MyLegacy Publications in early 2014. Her poetry has been published in the ‘Armed With Only Our Souls’ anthology by NY poet, Caits Meissner, as well as in the Special Edition #1: Digging Deep, Facing Self. Visit her at www. raidahshahidil.com.