World Water Day. I’ve been advocating for it for a few years now (along with World Toilet Day!). It’s a day to draw attention to the importance of access to clean, safe water, not just for drinking, but for health, economic growth, and social justice. The advocacy usually focuses on developing countries, due their lack of infrastructure and development.
This year, I’m forced to shift the focus to “the richest nation in the world”.
This is what the water sometimes looks like in my hotel room in Yangon, Myanmar (or for the older folks in the room: Rangoon, Burma). You may have heard of this country. It’s the country whose military government imprisoned a Nobel Peace Prize winner for over 15 years. It recently had the first open election since 1990 (PS: the result of this election was that the military government didn’t like the results so it arrested the winners, and stayed in power).
Now, this is what (what I hear) the water looks like at a hospital in Flint, Michigan.
I bet you think I’m going to make the indictment here, by saying, “See, there’s no difference!” Unfortunately, there is a difference. A BIG difference. The water in Flint (and by some estimates, up to 20% of all water supplies in the US), contains lead. I’m not going to explain the health effects of lead. We all already know.
Here is where the social justice comes in. In any other country, heads would roll. In Japan, almost literally, as governors, city officials, and anybody else linked to such a scandal (or more appropriately, a crime) would likely take their own lives in shame (I’m not saying they should, or that it serves a positive purpose. But, it’s likely something like that would happen). In China, the recent anti-corruption campaigns have not only ousted, but imprisoned and even executed the most powerful names in Chinese politics, even in the military. A quick look at the US reveals a much different landscape. Not even a fine is to be seen. Quite the opposite, millions of federal dollars are flowing into the governor’s office for “relief”. That’s of course because the real (and only) victims are the citizens of Flint, especially the children. And they really do need every cent. A slight inconvenience of a congressional hearing is all the governor really suffered. It’s standard operating procedure for the political class nowadays.
I work in developing countries to improve access to clean water. It’s what I feel is the best application of my skill sets to contribute to independence, sustainability, equality, and ultimately, peace. To see something like this happen in the US, a country I consider home, is devastatingly disheartening. I do what I do because I believe everyone deserves safe water. How is it that this now includes the “richest nation on Earth”? This did not happen due to lack of technology. America is the most advanced nation in the world. This did not happen due to lack of funds. America is the richest nation in the world. It happened because of greed. It happened because the people no longer have a voice in the greatest democracy on Earth.
What does that leave for the countries making heroic efforts to supply their citizens with water that doesn’t make them sick? What does that leave for people like me that spend their lives working hand-in-hand with these nations?
Fortunately, infrastructures exist that allow Americans to advocate for themselves. Many municipalities have policies requiring disclosure of water quality results. Just ask. They will come to your house to test your water, for free. Just ask. Simple test kits are available online. Just ask, google (another great American institution).
It has to work in the US. If not, how can it work anywhere else? Or, are you waiting for the Burmese to show you how it’s done?