umWHAT, dedicated to bring change worldwide

Nowadays, a vicious cycle exists in the world of poverty — approximately 25,000 children around the world die every day due to the effects of poverty. Simple ailments in North America, such as diarrhea, can lead to death in many parts of the world. The main cause of this is poor sanitation. It’s such a simple concept, yet sometimes it seems like an impossible solution to attain.
Think about when you wake up every morning and brush your teeth. You turn on the tap, and out flows delicious, clear water, entirely at your disposal. Imagine the horror if one day that clear water turns brown. It would be absolutely disgusting and none of us would dare to put our mouths to it. The sad fact is that, for 2.6 billion people around the world, this is their reality — this is the water, if any, that is available to them.

Food and water are two basic requirements for our survival, and yet half of the people on this planet struggle each day to get it. We have recently seen the devastation that natural disasters have on impoverished communities around the world, like in Haiti. However, we don’t get to see as much of the daily tragedies that occur around the world. The amount of people who died in Haiti’s earthquake is the same amount of children that die every week around the world due to poverty. We can’t control natural disasters, but we have the ability to provide safe drinking water and sanitation to those who do not have it. The task may seem daunting and its complexity is extremely challenging, however it is far from impossible.

For development to happen and for it to be sustainable, it has to fit within the culture and the mentality of the people. Manouche Douze, a student at the University of Fondwa in Haiti, said she appreciates the assistance of foreigners in Haiti, but stressed that it needs to be done right: “Rather than giving us a little something every time, show us how to do it ourselves.” This is the key to creating viable solutions for problems such as water shortages and poor sanitation. Without commitment from the people for whom the solutions are created, the efforts are not worth it.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty that faces developing countries when it comes to water resources is that of exporting. When poor countries discover water sources, it is more profitable for them to sell the water for bottling in other countries than it is for them to keep it. Not only does this create a problem for drinking water, but also for farming. Since most of the water is being shipped off, only a small amount is left to water the crops of farmers that provide the food to these communities, and then whatever is left after that is used for drinking, which is not much. Many other factors make international development trickier, such as global warming. Even an increase of as little as one degree Celsius in average temperature can decrease food growth by 10 per cent.

So how do we begin to solve a problem as intricate as this one, and one that affects so many people? These problems are complex, but we need to begin by breaking the cycle. As Canadians, we are the second highest users of water and energy in the world, second to the United States. As such large contributors to global warming and big drinkers of bottled water, we cause a lot of damage to countries in the developing world.

We have the capacity to bring change to these countries and to help them increase their quality of life. By making small changes in our own lives, such as avoiding plastic bottles and using less energy, we can create a ripple effect across the world. These small changes will lead to bigger changes, such as governmental policies intending to change the many ineffective and ultimately damaging processes that are currently in place in our country and across the world.

Sarah Bockstael is part of The University of Manitoba World Humanitarian Action Team (umWHAT), a new student group dedicated to bringing about positive social change through education and action initiatives carried out locally.