If you’re reading this, chances are very good that you’re not all that worried about having regular access to a clean, safe toilet. (You may even be sitting on one while you’re reading this.) More than 2.5 billion people can’t say the same, and the problems that result ripple out through communities, countries, entire regions. Thousands of kids die from diarrhea and other preventable illnesses every single day. Billions of dollars are lost to struggling economies each year, due to sickness and shortened lifespans. Ever-more-scarce water resources and fragile habitats suffer ongoing contamination—something especially important to note on March 22, World Water Day.
The sanitation problem is daunting but it’s also solvable, using knowledge and technology available right now. Since 1990, when sanitation became one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, governments and private charities, engineers and activists, have worked together to bring safe toilets, ones that protect their users from contact with human waste, to almost 2 billion people. But there are still 2.5 billion more to go. What’s missing now is a commitment to make sanitation a priority.
That’s about to change.
At the end of March, a group of entrepreneurs, philanthropists and activists will embark on a climb to Everest base camp as part of a campaign called the #Trek4Toilets. We’re coming together from the U.S., Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, as part of a growing global movement to bring sanitation to all. As we trek, we’ll document the sanitation systems of Nepal, noting successes and highlighting the human need as well as the human potential. Then a summit team–including Steve Obbayi, who’s determined to be the first Kenyan to reach the top of Everest–will carry the Toilet Hackers banner to the peak, making global sanitation the world’s “highest” priority. We want decision-makers around the world to take note of the importance of the issue, and meet our commitment with action of their own.
I’ve just seen the need for engagement here at home in the U.S. Earlier this month, when I met with several members of Congress and their staffers to talk about HR 2901, the Water for the World Act. Water for the World is a bipartisan bill, with over 40 sponsors from across the country and all along the political spectrum. It’s supported by more than 80 diverse non-profits, from the American Red Cross to the World Wildlife Fund. And it’s carefully crafted to make the best, most effective use of taxpayer dollars, without adding to government spending. Water and sanitation projects are tremendously effective investments, returning at least $5.50 for every dollar spent. Water for the World increases that effectiveness, by directing aid to the regions that need it most, setting up monitoring systems to provide
accountability and transparency, and building on the projects that work best on the ground.
All the staffers and members of Congress we spoke to recognized the value of Water for the World – but one House representative told me that while she liked the bill, she wouldn’t be spending any time or energy on it. “There’s too much else going on,” she said. “Syria, Russia, jobs… I just can’t make this a priority.”
Those are important issues, certainly. But there are always going to be urgent crises, at home and abroad. By focusing on water and sanitation issues now, before they reach the crisis point, we’ll actually help prevent real catastrophes down the road. Public support for Water for the World will help bring it to a vote, which in turn will help bring safe toilets, improved hygiene, and clean water to everyone who needs them.
These two treks, up a mountain and on the Hill, are part of the same epic journey to improve the lives of billions. So today, on World Water Day, remember that paying attention to the brown helps protect the blue, day in and day out. Help change the world, from the bottom up by asking your member of Congress to support the Water for the World Act, or climb on the #Trek4Toilets campaign.