By Karishma Bhagani
What if walking three hours to get water was a first-world problem?
It's easy to forget how accessible some basic resources are to us. For example, in many Western countries, including the United States, we have the privilege of turning on the faucet for access to clean drinking water. Thus, most of our time can be allocated to our jobs, school or raising families, instead of constantly trying to procure resources to sustain ourselves.
For many global citizens, a basic human right is drying up. Without significant changes, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reports that two-thirds of the world's population is expected to be living under "severe water stress conditions" by 2025. The situation in certain areas is even more dire. In 20 African countries, more than 30 percent of the population does not have access to clean water today.
My home country, Kenya, is experiencing a water crisis. The citizens in rural Kenya aren't afforded the privilege of simply walking to the faucet if they're thirsty; instead, they hike.
As I mentioned in my talk at the New England Biolabs Passion in Science Awards (video above), it takes a Kenyan child an average of three hours a day to fetch one liter of water. Almost half of the Kenyan population does not have direct access to a clean drinking water source -- that's 18 million people, 70 percent of whom live in a rural setting.
Lack of access to clean drinking water has multiple implications. First and foremost, the health of the population is adversely affected by the spread of water-borne diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and diarrhea. This contributes to a negative feedback loop; children cannot attend school, leading to a depleted workforce and a detrimental impact on the economy of the country.
While I was in high school, half the country was drought-stricken, and the other half endured a rampant increase in water-borne diseases due to flooding. So, I created a cost-effective water purifier made from traditional elements, such as sand, gravel, charcoal, cotton cloth, and Moringa oleifera (shown below).
On average, the unit can purify five liters of water in one hour and costs less than $20 to create. It has the capacity to purify water for approximately 18 months of daily use by an average family of five people.
The initiative is called Matone de Chiwit, which means "drops of life."
Technological advancements have accelerated the development of innovative tools to solve global problems, but it's worth considering a different approach: Simplicity is sometimes the best policy.
Collectively, solving global challenges on a large scale can be daunting. However, if broken down into manageable portions, one can find simple solutions to each individual problem and begin to make a difference on a smaller scale in their communities. Not only will this eventually lead to a global movement of local solutions and shared ideas, but we will also begin to find similarities and ways to connect with different people from all over the world.
We must consider the long-term implications of our actions, not only within the context of our immediate environment, but also for the larger global community. True leadership means embracing our global community and taking action to make life better for others. As a global citizen, I believe that I have a responsibility to help populations in developing countries gain access to clean water.
How are you going to help the world as a global citizen?
Images courtesy of the author
Featured image: Pexels
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While in high school, Karishma Bhagani founded Matone de Chiwit to provide water purifiers to places in need of clean water. The water purifier received first prize overall in the Golden Climate International Science Fair Competition in 2014 and was the recipient of a grant from the Reynolds Changemaker Challenge at New York University in 2015 and 2016. Karishma was also the recipient of the 2016 Passion in Science: Humanitarian Duty Award at New England Biolabs.