Standing in Line for Life’s Basic Need: Water

Erik Byker

Dr. Erik Byker

Today’s blogger is Erik Jon Byker, Associate Professor in the Cato College of Education at UNC Charlotte. His article “Global Water Crisis: Preparing Preservice Teachers for ‘Day Zero,’” coauthored by Michael Putman, Chris Reddy, and Lesley LeGrange, appeared in the January 2019 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.

I often ask the undergraduate students I teach what they would be willing to stand in line for at least 1 hour to get.

After some quizzical expressions, the students chime in with responses like, “my favorite restaurant,” “concert tickets,” “roller coaster ride,” and “a sporting event.”

Then, I up the queue wait time to 3 hours, and the students go largely silent except for the one or two loyal music fans or sports fanatics.

I end the thought experiment by asking, “How long would you stand in line for a couple bottles of water?” Most of the students look at me rather puzzled and have a hard time even fathoming this inquiry.

Yet, waiting in line for water is increasingly becoming a daily reality for many people around the world.

About this same time last year, for example, citizens in Cape Town, South Africa, would line up to collect their daily water ration of just 50 liters of water per day. And Cape Town is not the only large urban area to be affected by the global water crisis. The British Broadcasting Company explained that there are nearly a dozen other large cities that are water stressed. This Friday, March 22, is World Water Day, which is a day to highlight the importance of water for sanitation and health (WASH).

World Water Day also helps to raise awareness about the global water crisis, which impacts more than 2 billion people around the globe. In her 2015 book Raising Awareness, Raising Hope, Lori Stoltzman shares other eye-opening statistics from the United Nations and the World Health Organization about the global water crisis:

  • Women and children (usually girls) spend up to 60% of each day walking to collect water.
  • 160 million children suffer from stunting and chronic malnutrition due to unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation.
  • Without access to a latrine, many girls in lesser developed nations stop going to school once they reach puberty.

Raising awareness is a pathway for taking action. In the article “Global Water Crisis: Preparing Preservice Teachers for ‘Day Zero,’” my colleagues and I discuss how an immersive study abroad experience in South Africa led many of our teacher candidate participants to adopt water conservation habits. Yet, educators do not have to travel halfway around the world to investigate the water crisis. There are examples like Flint, Michigan, and the Catawba River Basin in North Carolina, which impact localities across the United States.

To integrate World Water Day (which should be every day), educators can start by supporting their learners in examining the importance of water to everyday health and well-being.

One effective strategy for this examination is to distribute one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) icons and then simply ask the question, “How is water connected or related to the icon you have? Explain the connection.” Another strategy, which integrates with mathematics, is to have learners estimate how many liters of water are used for everyday activities like brushing teeth, flushing the toilet, cooking food, and washing dishes.

Such an activity helps learners analyze how quickly 50 liters of water can get consumed. As learners gain greater awareness about the importance of water, it could lead to participation in service learning opportunities organized by groups like H2O for Life, which engages learners of all ages in a Walk for Water.

To close, I ask again, “How long would you wait for a couple of bottles of water?” The question answers itself depending on the water scarcity. During World Water Day (and beyond), let’s commit to raising awareness and taking action about the global water crisis. Such acts are part of becoming a Critical Cosmopolitan Citizen or what Paulo Freire explained as developing a critical consciousness in order to rewrite the world.

I am more and more convinced that educators need to promote greater water literacy so that even a couple of bottles of water will be viewed as a precious resource to meet our daily need.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the Kappa Delta Pi Record with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through April 30, 2019.

World Water Day 2019

Click the image above to visit the official World Water Day website.