Mar 12, 2019
Over two billion people are now living without safe water at home and marginalised groups including women, children, refugees and disabled people are often overlooked as they try to access the water they need. The theme of World Water Day 2019 on 22nd March is ‘Leaving no one behind’ and links to the Sustainable Development Goal 6: Water and Sanitation for all by 2030. To mark the day Meryl Batchelder has written a letter from planet Earth.
Although Earth itself is an inanimate object many religions and cultures around the world refer to the planet as Mother Earth or Mother Nature because the biosphere is the giver and sustainer of life. With the increasing pressures on Earth from climate change and pollution it seems apt to give Earth a voice with which to make its opinions heard.
Apologies for not making this letter more personal but there are 7.7 billion of you and only one of me and this message is urgent.
I am Earth, the third planet from the Sun in the Solar System, located on an arm of the Milky Way which is just one of the many galaxies in the Universe. So far as you know, although there may well be life on other planets, I am the only planet where humans live. It may not be modest but I believe I am a beautiful blue-green sphere with an incredible biodiversity and, as you’ve evolved to live here, that I am the perfect home for you.
It is particularly the ‘blue’ that I wish to talk to you about today; WATER. Specifically I’m referring to fresh water which is not just critical to your existence but is essential to all life on land.
A couple of hundred years ago, during the Industrial Revolution, which you may well study in history lessons, I started to notice some changes. Streams were diverted for mills, pollutants were washed away down rivers and flood plains were built on. Up to a point I coped with these developments. However, as human populations increased it became obvious that there is a limit to how much I’m able to cope with. This is what I need to explain.
In the UK each of you humans each use 153 litres of water a day. This is for: baths; showers; teeth brushing; shaving; hand washing; dish washing; clothes washing; toilet flushing; watering plants; drinking and cooking or food preparation.
But in addition to these uses there is hidden water that you personally don’t run out of a tap but is still hugely important. This is the water used in manufacturing and agriculture. Did you know it takes 2,700 litres of water to make a white cotton tee-shirt? From growing the cotton, processing the fibres, cleaning, production and distribution, it all adds up. If you buy a new pair of jeans that’s 11,000 litres – of fresh drinking water. But aspects of the fashion industry can be even worse; in India or China where many of your clothes are made, my rivers can be polluted with excess dyes from the factories. This water could be used for drinking or to provide sanitation.
Other hidden water usage includes the water needed to grow the food you eat. It’s obvious that you need to water plants but it might surprise you to find that one apple takes 125 litres of water to produce. Taking it a step further to make apple juice, one 200ml glass requires around 230 litres of water. Taking it several steps further, beef is one of the most water-intensive meats. On average it takes 15,400 litres of fresh water to produce 1kg of beef. That is a huge amount of water if you consider that a bath holds just 100 litres. Intensive farming is also responsible for soil degradation and huge amounts of chemicals being washed off land into my rivers. It takes quite a lot of effort to feed and water almost eight billion humans.
Much fresh water is wasted through leaking pipes, running taps, uneaten food and buying the things you don’t really need. You really shouldn’t be so wasteful. In many developing countries, water consumption is as low as 20 litres a day for the average person (what you each used in Britain way back in the 19th century).
You humans with easy access to fresh water might think that I have plenty of water to share with everybody. However, 98% percent of all my water is in the oceans, and therefore is unusable for drinking because of the salt. About 2% of my water is fresh, but 1.6% is still locked up in the polar ice caps and glaciers. Another 0.36% is found underground in aquifers and wells. Only about 0.04% of my water is found in lakes and rivers. That's still thousands of trillions of litres, but it's a very small amount compared to all the water available. Now that you have caused global warming by burning fossil fuels I am certain that droughts and water scarcity are only going to get worse.
While I’m having a grumble you humans have also polluted so much of my fresh water supplies it is estimated that around 80% of all fresh water animals have ‘disappeared’ since the 1970s. So please can you stop polluting my lakes, rivers and streams with litter and toxic chemicals? It is not just my oceans that are contaminated with plastic; there are now bits of plastic and microplastic particles spread across my entire surface. It really is quite grim – please think about the consequences of your actions or if the products you buy are really sustainable!
Finally, as I really am getting very tired, I’m going to leave by asking you to at least take action to conserve water. It is very simple, you could taking a short shower instead of a bath, turn off the tap when brushing teeth, only wash your clothes when they really need it, check for leaks, reduce the amount of clothes you buy, waste less food, eat less meat or water plants with collected rainwater. Saving water is so easy and if all 7.7 billion humans did a bit then there should be enough for all of you.
I really would appreciate any help!
Taking learning further
Borrow CDEC’s Water resource box – email or call us to book it and find out more about membership and borrowing boxes here!
Check out the World Water Day website or learn more about the sustainable development goal for clean water and sanitation for all SDG6.
Keep a water-use diary and challenge friends and family to reduce the amount of water they use and share your water saving messages with everyone – you can even use saving water as one of your EcoSchool themes.
Learn about the water cycle or how changing weather patterns and global warming are causing drought.
Water Explorers Water Explorers encourages students aged 8-14 from 11 countries to take bold and powerful action to save our precious water through fun, interactive water saving missions.
Practical Action A range of different STEM challenges that can be both incorporated into lessons or used for transition, curriculum enrichment day, parental engagement or a STEM club.
Research the science of water (H2O) and why it is unusual as the solid state of the compound floats on the liquid whereas for other substances the solid tends to sink.