Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

October 15, 2006


Scarcity of fresh water one of the world’s biggest problems


          A trip to Zambia this past July made me more keenly aware than ever of the shortage of fresh water in the world. We were counseled to drink only bottled water so for two weeks we took bottles of water everywhere we went.

          Most of us take fresh water for granted, never realizing that a billion people in the world lack safe drinking water every day. That fact was merely a statistic until I met Alfred Kalembo.

          Alfred was born in a remote village in Zambia. The nearest source of water was a mile away in a small stream. His mother went there every day to retrieve water for the needs of her family. The water was hardly safe or clean.

          More than 40 years after Alfred’s birth some of the good folks in our church paid $7,500 to have a well and a pump installed in that village. The pump was made by a company in India and provided by a church in America so poor people in Africa can have safe drinking water.

          An identical well and pump was installed in the remote village a hundred miles away where Alfred’s wife, Muumbe, was born. Now people from miles around walk daily to these two wells, eager to fill up their containers with safe drinking water. Almost any time of the day you can see women walking back to their village huts with five-gallon cans of water balanced on their heads and smaller containers in their hands.  

          Though the cost of these two wells was fifteen thousand dollars, the fresh water is available free of charge to anyone. Small contributions are encouraged to provide future maintenance for the wells even though most people are too poor to give anything.

          While about 75 per cent of the earth’s surface is covered with water, most of it is not safe to drink. Only 3 per cent of earth’s water is safe to drink and two-thirds of that is frozen.

Experts predict that in less that 50 years more than 2 billion of earth’s 6.5 billion people will be faced with water scarcity. Already more than a billion people wake up every morning without access to safe drinking water.

          This scarcity has promoted people to call water “the oil of the 21st Century.” Conflict between nations over fresh water is sure to escalate. The dispute over water rights between Alabama and Georgia is but the tip of the iceberg.

          Clearly the most valuable commodity in the world today is not oil or gas but clean water. One of the safest bets for investors today is fresh water because of the law of supply and demand. The rapidly growing population of the world is greatly increasing the demand for fresh water.

          So what is my point in all this? My point is that those of us who enjoy an abundance of clean water must stop taking it for granted! We need to take a few minutes to think about the rest of the planet’s people.

          Consider, for example, that earth’s water crisis is the leading cause of death and disease in the world. One expert says the lack of fresh water is causing the death of more than 14,000 people every day, 11,000 of them children under age five. Eighty per cent of all illnesses in developing countries are water-related.

Recall the picture of women carrying water on their heads in Zambia? Then consider this: It is estimated that globally women and girls spend more than 200 million hours every day walking to collect water from distant, often polluted sources—time that could be better spent going to school or working productively. There is little doubt that the global water shortage is the single biggest problem facing earth’s poor.

What can we do about this crisis? Well, my water bill at home was so high last month that I had a serious talk with our grass and flowers. I told them they had better start praying for rain because I had cut off the sprinkler system.

That is a small thing, but every little bit can help. We can turn off the faucet while we are brushing our teeth. We can take shorter showers. And we can follow the example of the Frazer Sunday School Class of Saint James United Methodist Church in Montgomery.  It was this class that raised fifteen thousand dollars to install two wells and pumps in Zambian villages out of love for Alfred and Muumbe Kalembo.

Such generosity has made the world’s clean water crisis less of a problem for several hundred poor people in Africa. The opportunity to do something is available to each of us. Think about that the next time you enjoy a refreshing drink of cool, clean water. + + +