Monday, March 22 was World Water Day and this whole week has been designated as World Water Week.  Each year the week focuses on a different aspect of freshwater.  This year the focus is on the quality of freshwater around the world, but particularly in developing countries.  This week is not only on raising awareness about the scarcity of clean water in some nations, but also on raising awareness about how something small, such as drinking tap water rather than bottled water, can have a huge impact on both water resources and climate change!

UNICEF’s Tap Project has been held this week at campuses across the country.  The campaign asks participating restaurants to ask for $1 from patrons for the tap water (that is normally free).  This $1 is donated to UNICEF for use in efforts to bring clean water and sanitation to people all over the world.

Nearly 1.8 million children and as many as 2.2 million people, die every year from water-related illnesses throughout the world. These are illnesses that can be prevented by cleaning up the water supply and stopping the dumping of waste into rivers, streams, and oceans.  Not only is this harmful to the people drinking it and using it for domestic and agricultural uses, but it is damaging for the environment as well – disrupting ecosystems, killing off species of marine-life, and contributing to climate change. Wastewater run-off and poor water quality impacts all aspects of life.

The UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) released their report on the health of water on Monday to coincide with World Water Day.  Their report was anything but heartwarming – water-related illnesses are killing people; overall water quality is affecting the quality of life for people who are just barely getting by.  More people die from water related illnesses than from conflicts and war.  Water run-off from newly industrialized states contaminates the water supply, or in some cases even diminishes it.  For example, the Coco-Cola Company in India has drained the local ground water supply for use in their manufacturing plants.  (check out here for more info on corporate misuse of water resources).

The UN has reported progress on this issue, saying that with “With 87 per cent of the world’s population or approximately 5.9 billion people using safe drinking-water sources, the world is on track to meet or even exceed the drinking-water target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).” This, however, glosses over the nearly 200 million people without access to clean water and safe drinking water, who also happen to be the 200 million people most forgotten about and marginalized.

The UN and the international community have agreed that access to clean water is an essential and basic right – that it is needed for people to live.  And people in the international community have responded and held events this whole week proclaiming the need for access to clean water.

While these programs and event are wonderful and focus on access to clean water for everyone, for many of us that is not an issue in our own lives.  We have access to clean water for our homes and for drinking.  And yet so many people in the United States (and in other industrialized countries) choose to use bottled water over the tap water that is provided to us, under the impression that bottled water is ‘cleaner’ or simply because ‘it tastes better.’

The truth is that the bottled water industry is incredibly damaging to the environment and is generally a waste of money and resources.  To produce the bottles used for bottled water, it takes about 17.6 million barrels of oil per year.  That’s just in the United States! Many of these bottles do not get recycled and are incinerated which released harmful gases into the air.  It’s ironic to me that we refuse to drink tap water because it’s ‘not as clean as bottled water’ when the bottled water industry contributes to the pollution that create unclean water for many other parts of the world.

The US government monitors the safety and ‘cleanliness’ of tap water much more than it does the water in bottled water.  Additionally the plastic from the bottles can leak chemicals into the water.  The FDA only requires that bottled water industries test their products for harmful bacteria once a week, and is fairly loose about the monitoring of the products.  The EPA is much stricter with the monitoring of tap water – it requires that tap water be checked between 300 and 480 times per month (about 75-120 times per week).

In terms of money, tap water makes more sense financially.  Tap water costs about 10 cents per gallon, countertop filters (like a Britta filter) costs about 25 cents per gallon of water and bottled water costs about 10 dollars per gallon.  To buy only bottled water costs 100 times the amount of using tap water!! Not to mention that tap water is generally free in most restaurants, saving you money upfront.  (Unless donating to a great cause like the UNICEF program mentioned above!!) The bottled water companies are making a huge profit off of providing you with a product you can get for free, not to mention that these bottled water companies are bottled in some places where the citizens are members of the 200 million people without access to clean water.

Check out Take Back the Tap for more information about the impact of bottled water!

It’s important to remember where our water comes from, what impact we can have on the rest of the world, and that water is something that everyone has a right to access.  It’s something I know I have taken for granted so often.  So find out a little bit more about it, and spread the word about World Water Week!