‘WASH YOUR HANDS!’
I’ve read this today in the bathroom of a restaurant, on a poster in the supermarket, in the train
station and as an advertisement on my phone. Especially since the world wide spread of the
virus COVID-19, there is no place that does not remind you of the importance of your hygiene.
As a matter of fact, according to the World Health Organization, handwashing is one of the most
effective actions you can take to reduce the spread of pathogens and prevent infections,
including the COVID-19 virus.
This made me think about the topic water. The big role that the H2O compound has in our lives.
Where would we be without water? WATER IS LIFE.
In Amsterdam, a person at home uses around 50.000 liters of water per year. (Waternet) We
use more than half of our water for showering and for the toilet. Isn’t it insane that “worldwide,
one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water, two out of five people do not
have a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water, and more than 673 million people still
practice open defecation” (UN) while we, Dutch people, flush 35 liters of DRINKING water A
DAY down our toilet! Of the 133 liters of clean water a Dutch person uses a day, he/she only
uses 2 liters to actually drink! We are unnecessarily wasting earth’s clean water.
The vast majority of water on the Earth’s surface, about 97% percent, is saline water in the
oceans. This is too salty for drinking, growing crops and most industrial uses except cooling.
The freshwater resources, such as water falling from the skies and moving into streams, rivers,
lakes, and groundwater, provide people with the water they need every day to live. Of the 3%
fresh water, 2,5% is unavailable (locked up in glaciers, polar ice caps, atmosphere, and soil;
highly polluted; or lies too far under the earth’s surface to be extracted at an affordable
cost.) This leaves us with 0.5% as available fresh water.
The human population is growing and so is the demand for water. For hygiene, agriculture,
cooking, sanitation, swimming, health care facilities, cleaning, washing, the industry, production
and most importantly drinking. Water is not equally distributed and used very inefficiently at the
moment. Access to water, sanitation and hygiene is a human right, which we will not be able to
keep in practice if we don’t make changes. Especially now, since climate change is giving us
rising temperatures and extreme droughts. How can we regulate the amount of water used?
Besides the inefficiency of our water usage and the unequal distribution, we are facing another
problem: water pollution… the contamination, depletion of water quality, making it toxic for the
environment and humans. Humans have come up with incredible ways to filter water and purify
dirty water, but treating heavily chemical polluted water (generated by the nitrates and
phosphates of pesticides, human and animal drugs, household products, heavy metals, acids
and hydrocarbons used in industries) takes a lot of energy. Besides efficient wastewater
treatments, preventing water pollution can be done by green agriculture, stormwater
management, better air quality, plastic waste reduction and water conservation. We need to
realize that even though we live on a blue planet, a sphere of H2O, water is a scarce resource.
We, Dutch people, are certainly not acting like it. Our water (treatment) systems are highly
developed, clean water seems normal and is accessible in every home, while others have to
walk hours for a bucket of groundwater. In my opinion, we are not aware of this luxury and
taking it for granted. Why are we, for example, not using our shower water to flush toilets? The
problem is that water is very cheap, which does not (economically) trigger us to reduce our use.
However, making water more expensive will make it inaccessible for the poor.
In conclusion, clean water is not equally distributed worldwide, we are using way too much and
not using it efficiently. Why is it that some people don’t even have water to wash their hands and
prevent the spreading of a virus like COVID-19, while others use 35 liters of drinking water a
DAY to flush down their toilet?! Change is necessary if we want to prevent the spread of viruses
and diseases and provide all individuals of our growing population with this vital liquid that
keeps us and the earth alive.