Articles

Project WET Teaches Water Awareness

by admin on April 19, 2011

As the global water shortage crisis grows, it has become more apparent than ever that the children of today will inherit water woes, as well as provide the source for answers about how to address the problems in the future.

Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) began in 1984 and is a nonprofit organization with a mission to educate children, parents and teachers about the water crisis, possible solutions and using water responsibly in a world in which the population is rising and freshwater reserves are shrinking.

This mission is global in scope, and focuses its resources in four key areas: making water resource materials easily understood and accessible, funding training workshops on water quality and conservation subjects, organizing community events and establishing a network that links educators to water resource professionals and scientists.

The Project WET Foundation is headquartered in Bozeman, Montana, and emphasizes the importance of water conservation awareness at home as well as in locations abroad. Unlike some other organizations, Project WET sets goals for educating children that may not directly feel – or readily understand – the effects of a water shortage.

This all-inclusive approach has led to initiatives in the North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa. In total, Project WET supports 100 coordinators and 3,000 facilitators in 42 countries around the world. In some locations, like Afghanistan, Fiji and Togo, contact by other organizations has been sparse, but Project WET has been able to make inroads.

In addition to providing direct hands-on support, the organization also partners with large corporations in an effort to expand its message. While some organizations deride companies that may be seen to abuse resources, like Nestle and Wal-Mart, Project Wet courts them in an effort to increase awareness and change business practices.

This is exemplary of Planet WET’s overall message of harnessing global potential, in the world’s children as well as in all others, to solve a global problem.

UN-Water, through its “Water for Life” Decade program, is a division of the United Nations charged with developing solutions that will help ease the burden the global water crisis places on women of the world.

The “Water for Life” Decade mandate proposes to bring relief to people, particularly women, who suffer the most harm from water shortages, poor sanitation and danger from natural disasters like tsunamis, floods and hurricanes.

This program falls within the ambit of a broader plan agreed upon at the 2000 Millennium Summit by all UN Member States called the Millennium Development Goals. These goals are interdependent, and calls for intense work in these broad categories between 2005 and 2015:

Women’s Roles and Responsibilities

Cultural norms in the most water-starved areas place the burden solely on women to haul water for daily use; a task that essentially robs them of life. The goal is to relieve women of disproportionate responsibility for water transportation through education.

Health, Hygiene and Sanitation

Water-borne disease threatens millions of lives every day and is believed to be the underlying cause of 10 million child deaths each year. Investing in the infrastructure of, and education about, sanitation and long-term water delivery services can drastically reduce this threat, especially when women are given equal access to the information.

Food and Agriculture

The global population is projected to pass 7 billion people by the close of the year, and most of that growth is occurring in developing nations where the water crisis is worst. Increasing global food production and the understanding of agricultural practices by providing water to rural and arid areas can help curb malnutrition and starvation, which more severely impacts women and children.

Natural Disaster Relief

Natural disasters can have a devastating impact on a developing nation that is already suffering from a water shortage. A UN-Water study found that more than 665,000 deaths occurred in natural disasters between 1991 and 2000, and that 90% of those deaths were water-related. Further, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami alone was responsible for 300,000 deaths.

A staggering amount of these victims were women who were not aware of an impending disaster, or were not educated in actions they may have taken to increase their odds of survival. “Water for Life” advocates the need for this basic education and communication.

The “Water for Life” Decade, through the support of all 191 United Nations Member States, is striving to identify and actively address these issues by 2015 in all areas where they occur by encouraging increased investment, activism, volunteerism and study.

We are bombarded with the news that we as Americans are using too much water.

We leave our faucets on, our toilets are not calibrated to use less water per flush, we take showers instead of water-saving baths, and we use inefficient appliances like dishwashers and washing machines that fritter away a valuable resource.

The Environmental Protection Agency projects the average indoor use of water to be 100 gallons per person, per day. There is no denying that this is a lot of water, and the argument that “it is all relative” falls flat. Americans use a lot more indoor water per capita than any other country.

What may be surprising, though, is that our indoor use is nothing compared to what the United States uses for farming and irrigation, which includes water for crops, chemical applications, lawn and golf course watering and weed control.

According to the latest data compiled by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), of the 410 billion gallons of freshwater withdrawals made in 2005, 130 billion gallons is used for irrigation and livestock.

This amounts to about 30% of the total freshwater withdrawals, compared to the 10% used by more conventional means in the home. It’s partly explained by the fact that agriculture is still big business in the U.S., despite media reports that suggest farming is on the decline.

Even if accurate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 46% of U.S. land is used for agriculture, making it the largest use of land in the country. And, not all of that land is ideally suited for farming, or is used to farm crops that need large quantities of water.

U.S. water rights are always evolving, but their formation when the country was still largely an agrarian society still has its influence. Some historians note that agriculture singly defined the contour of current water rights.

Agriculture is a powerful industry with a historical responsibility conferred by its rights in water, and will play an important role in conservation of our precious water resources.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that American really is the land of plenty, especially when it comes to cool, clean water. It comes right out of faucets and spigots with a flick of the wrist. Perhaps it is not surprising that this is not the case in many parts of the world.

What probably is surprising, though, is the amount of clean water used by the United States compared to what is used and is available in the rest of the world.

United States Water Use

According to reports conducted every five years by the United States Geological Survey, the “public supply” usage – which describes potable household water – amounted to 44.2 billion gallons per day in the U.S. in 2005. (Total freshwater use totals came to 410 billion gallons per day.)

The 2006 United Nations Human Development Report, paired this data with their independent assessment of per capita use, which was measured at 152 gallons of water per day by Americans in 2002.

Global Comparisons

The same UN report indicated that the US topped the charts for per capita water use, with Australia and Italy rounding out the top three consumers.

To provide some perspective, in the same year the citizens of Mozambique used only four gallons of water each per day. Of course, being only an average that meant that a great many Mozambicans went without any water, with disastrous results.

This problem continues and is projected to get far worse. UN-Water predicts that by 2025, 1800 million people will live in absolute water scarcity, and that two-thirds of the world’s population will exist in a state of very limited resources.

It is generally not up to Western citizens to provide water to those who do not have it, even though it has been attempted. The ultimate goal is one of support and education, and providing an example of responsible stewardship in a time when clean water will finally be recognized as the world’s most valuable commodity.