Have you ever wondered how you’d wash your hands after getting them dirty without clean water? Have you ever worried about whether you’d be able to relieve yourself in safety? Have you ever had to budget two hours of your day for collecting water?

Millions of people around the world have to make decisions like these every day. Free and secure access to clean water is essential for any society to prosper, but in the United States, we often don’t think about it. Unless you’re in Flint, Michigan or California, you’re luckier than most people around the world.

The numbers are alarming: every 90 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease. One in nine people lack access to safe water, while one in three lack access to a toilet. Problems like toxic water and depleted aquifers have the greatest impact on the world’s most vulnerable people. This is felt most acutely in refugee settlements, where the primary victims of waterborne diseases are children.

Thousands of casualties

In Bangladesh, where an estimated 706,000 Rohingyas have fled from Myanmar since August 2017, proper latrines and clean water points for camps were impossible to build in time. Today, monsoon season is hitting the region, and even though the United Nations and international aid organizations like Mercy Corps did much to prepare for the torrential rains, flooding has already caused latrine and water points to collapse, and more than 100,000 children are at risk of contamination from dirty water.

The collection of water, when not readily available, often reinforces harmful gender gaps. Women and girls are sent to collect water, shortening the time girls have available for education and discouraging families from sending girls to school. Girls and women are also vulnerable to violence when collecting water or going to the bathroom alone. In Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar camps for the Rohingya, Mercy Corps and partners have installed solar street lights in areas surrounding water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to protect women and young children from violence.

Economic effects

The annual economic losses from poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene in middle and low-income countries is about $260 billion. According to the World Health Organization, every $1 invested in sanitation generates $5.50 through reduced health care costs, increased worker productivity and decreased mortality. 

Whether in Flint or camps in Bangladesh, the need for potable water is the same. A better world is possible when access to clean water is no longer a concern, and we must act together to guarantee this basic necessity for everyone.