Ramadan, the month in the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast daily from sunrise to sunset, started last Monday, September 1. The fast is meant to unify Muslims around the world, teaching empathy, appreciation, and charity. Being without food or water during daylight hours may not give a person a complete understanding of what it means to be hungry, but it’s a start.
This Ramadan, I’ve been giving special thought to what the fast means from an environmental perspective. With New Dream’s Break the Bottled Water Habit campaign in full swing, it’s hard not to make the connection from how silly it is that more than half of U.S. residents drink bottled water regularly even though over 90 percent have access to clean, safe potable water to the fact that one-sixth of the world’s population does not have access to safe water. Every minute, four people around the world die of a water-related disease—that’s more than 21 million people a year. In 1993, a water purification plant in Wisconsin was contaminated, leading to 403,000 residents in the Milwaukee area to become temporarily ill, and more than 100 deaths. This was the largest water waterborne disease outbreak in the U.S. to date—talk about something we take for granted! This isn’t to say that the event of 1993 was not tragic, but that it was a single tragedy from which U.S. regulatory bodies learned and a similar event has never taken place since.
With at least 40 percent of bottled water coming from U.S. pipelines, Americans are paying twice financially for that water (once with their taxes, and twice at the checkout stand). Why? For the status? For the ease? More than 50 percent of Americans buy bottled water at least once a week. Imagine if those people instead took a reusable bottle for water on the go, and instead saved that money to be donated to organizations genuinely doing work to advocate on behalf of clean, public water sources here in the U.S. and/or organizations working to create and preserve clean, public water sources in areas of the world where they do not exist. With Americans spending more than $15 billion annually on bottled water, that kind of money can create a lot of good.
And to be clear—while I think it’s great that “charity” waters are out there at coffeeshops and other locations, promising to donate a portion of the sale of that bottle to cleaning water in a developing nation, that is not the answer. Companies are trying to absolve you of your green guilt are not creating an environmentally preferable profit by attaching a charity to it; they’ve just blinded you into thinking you’re doing a good thing. Donate your money directly. Don’t buy the hype. Be thankful for the clean safe water you have access to—and you know? Most of those coffeeshops are more than happy to fill up your non-toxic reusable bottle with the same water they use to make their coffee beverages.
Back to what got us talking about this in the first place: Ramadan. It’s a month that transcends religion. It’s a month about being thoughtful about what you have and trying to help others have a better life. Regardless of whether or not you are Muslim or you are observing Ramadan, think about the change you want to see in this world and how you can make that change possible.
Haven't taken the pledge yet? Visit water.newdream.org today to Break Your Bottled Water Habit.