The little things that can save our water

By Alie Iwanenko

Opinion Contributor

I often get asked the question, “Why should I care about what is happening halfway around the world when it doesn’t affect me?” Maybe what happens around the world doesn’t affect you, but what you do here, in the United States, definitely affects those around the world. When a European flushes a toilet or an American takes a shower, he or she is using more water than is available to hundreds of millions of individuals living in urban slums or arid areas of the developing world.  The average water use in Europe and the United States ranges between 200 and 600 liters per day, whereas the suggested minimum threshold is 20 liters per day, which is one-tenth of the average daily amount used to flush toilets in developed countries.

After having the amazing experience of traveling to Rio de Janeiro this summer with a group of students and professors from Canisius, these statistics became a reality for me. In the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, there is no sanitation system in place for the poor who are forced to live on the side of the mountains because they cannot afford to live in the city of Rio. A lack of sanitation system means that when it rains, the feces and other waste from dwellings in the mountains flow downhill and into the water sources that otherwise would be clean, such as Guanabara Bay. The waste contaminates a drinkable water source, making the water useless. The contaminated water is a problem for the residents of Rio, as well as for recent Olympic swimmers who had to compete in it.

Agricultural practices across the world have also had a substantial impact on the world’s freshwater resources. It takes 450 gallons of water to produce one quarter-pound hamburger, and 468 gallons of water to produce one pound of chicken. By choosing to go meatless one day per week, or even one meal per week, you can do your part to save water while also reducing animal waste, deforestation, and other practices that harm the environment. The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) International Panel of Sustainable Resource Management calls attention to meat consumption and makes clear that as the global population surges, western diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable.

If taking shorter showers, turning the faucet off while I brush my teeth, and eating less meat means I can make a difference for others around the world, you bet I’m going to do it. Now maybe that’s just easy for me to say as an advocate for social justice in the world, but I challenge everyone to at least think about how the little things can make a difference. We do not need to spend a lot of money to create this change. Essentially, it should be saving us money to use less water and consume less meat. This movement can be a grassroots one, but that means everyone needs to be on board or it isn’t going to work. You should care about what it going on around the world because you are worsening the problem by being ignorant of it. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can be the change. You just have to understand that how you live and the decisions you make affect more than just yourself.

Globalization has shrunk the world, and our consumption patterns now have a greater impact on more than just our local communities. We must begin to live sustainably. Citizens are going to have to make some changes, and these changes start with becoming more informed about the world in which we live. “Learning through doing” is now seen as vital in helping us grow in understanding sustainability, human motivations, and visions which provide the key to social change. Get out of your comfort zone. Travel the world. Learn about how other cultures live and you will realize we don’t have to live the way we do in the U.S.

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