How Far Would You Go For Safe Drinking Water?

By Elinor Keith

Before coming to work at the EPA, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique, along the southeastern coast of Africa. I didn’t have running water, but at first the school I taught at had a well about 100 yards from my house so getting water was not a problem. It only took a little time out of my day, and I got a little exercise at the same time! After 9 months the pump broke, and they weren’t able to fix it. For the next year, the closest public well was over a kilometer away. Walking 2 kilometers for every 20 liters of water was a big drain on my time.

I was still lucky: I had enough money to hire someone to carry water for me, and as a teacher I was respected enough in the community that people would loan me wheelbarrows or even give me water if they had extra. But many people are not so lucky: UNICEF estimates that women and girls in developing countries walk an average of 6 kilometers a day for water. Even then the water they drink is often not safe. 2.2 million deaths of children are preventable through improvements in the provision of safe drinking water, basic sanitation and hygiene practices.

It’s easy to forget sometimes how fortunate we are to be able to turn a tap and have safe drinking water come out. Here at the EPA, I’m proud of the work I do analyzing drinking water data to help ensure that in the US. To promote the need for access to safe water worldwide, we’re also teaming up with the US Agency for International Development to organize an Earth Day 6K Walk for Water – to reflect the average distance a woman in a third world country must walk daily for water. If you’ll be here in Washington, DC on April 27th, please join us by registering here. No matter where you are, you can do your part for safe drinking water by conserving water in your home.

About the Author: Elinor Keith analyzes drinking water data for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. Before joining the EPA, she taught high school chemistry in Mozambique for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer.