Walking for Water

A couple weeks ago I took a walk. As part of this whole Bald Birthday Benefit raising cash and awareness about water, I’ve wanted to understand a tiny bit of what life is like for the more than one billion people in this world who don’t have easy access to clean water.

When I want clean water I turn to one of the 13 faucets in my house that offers water (that’s sinks, showers and outside spigots), usually with my choice of hot or cold water. The water is clean and pure and I pay very little for it (consequently, there’s little incentive to conserve).

The one billion people who live without clean water aren’t so lucky. Many of them walk as far as three hours per day to get water. And whatever water they need, they have to carry. Imagine spending three hours of your day hauling water back and forth. For every flush of the toilet or extra minute you spend in the shower, imagine if you had to walk three hours to get that water. And the water they get isn’t exactly clean. It’s usually chock full of parasites and disease, killing 42,000 people every week.

It’s kind of insane when you think about it.

So a couple weeks back I took a walk. I walked two miles to the Mississippi River, a major source of freshwater, and back. The trip took an hour and 15 minutes. It’s not exactly what those without water go through, but it gives you an idea. It wasn’t an easy walk, either, since I had to climb down the steep river bluffs and then back up again. I certainly could have picked an easier route, but the point wasn’t doing it the easy way (the easy way would have been 10 feet to one of my 13 faucets). The point was to get a feel for the distance and the time. And the pain. Granted I’m a sedentary Internet geek, but I was still feeling the burn a few days later.

This is what some people in our world have to go through every day (many go through much worse). All for dirty water. Imagine the time and energy that would burn (according to my pedometer, it burned 280 calories). And I wasn’t even carrying any water.

Which is why I want to do it again.

My wife did a fundraiser at her school for charity: water, and they sent her one of the five gallon jerry cans that people in the developing world use to carry water. She filled it up and had her kindergartners try to carry it. I asked her to bring it home before sending it back. I wanted to give it a try. But just picking it up doesn’t count for much. Yeah, it’s heavy. Duh. But picking it up doesn’t tell you what it feels like to carry it for miles.

On Sunday, June 7, I’m planning to go back to the Mississippi River and carry five gallons of water back to my house. It sounds crazy. Maybe a little stupid. And definitely painful. I want to do it not to prove how strong I am (I’m not), but to truly understand what it’s like. That trek is a daily reality for so many people. And if I can help other people understand that reality as well, awesome.

We’ll be filming the whole charity stunt and putting together a little video to share a taste of this daily reality.

6 thoughts on “Walking for Water”

  1. Don’t forget that on top of walking that far and that long every day to carry home dirty water, most of the people responsible for getting water are women and children. Which means many children don’t go to school because it’s their job to bring the family water. It means women and young girls are in danger of being raped or kidnapped. It means children are in danger (in some places) of soldiers looking to add numbers to their ranks. Wild animals, like hyenas are a threat. Yes, the walk is long and difficult but it can also be extremely dangerous.

  2. Here’s a dumb question that I just thought of.. why don’t they just move down to where the water is? What’s keeping them at their current location?

    People have lived on stream beds and rivers since Adam & Eve.

  3. Tim, I imagine part of it is the same reason lake front property is more valuable here. Everybody may want it, but not everyone can have it. You physically can’t put all the people around one water hole.

    And I imagine in many places it’s not like Minnesota where there’s a lake around every corner. When we drove through the Ethiopian countryside there weren’t ponds and lakes visible all over. I remember seeing a handful of creeks during our three hour drive, but that was about it.

    I’m not sure if that’s the best answer, but that’s my two cents.

  4. That’s what I was thinking, but in videos I’ve seen of this (partially thanks to you, partially from 1st hand experience in places like Iraq), there is rarely an actual settlement at the water source.

  5. Kevin: May I tape a short part of your run tomorrow? Would you be willing to make a short statement or remark on camera about your doing this to raise awareness of the millions of people in third world countries who have no safe drinking water and very little of any type of water for all their washing, cooking, cleaning and drinking needs/ I volunteer as videomaker for Global Health Ministries and St. paul Water partners of St. Paul Synod of ELCA.. Myfilm will bemostly about unsafe waater in Tanzania. Thanks. Joe

  6. Tim, there’s probably reasons for that too, from the water source being at the bottom of a gully, to the people needing to live near the land they farm.

    What’s probably more important is that the water they get is dirty and causes all kinds o health problems.

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