Sometimes I want the long version of a story. And sometimes I am eager to just hear the highlights. Sometimes I am satisfied to scratch the surface. And sometimes, it’s true, I need to know all the facts.
On World Water Day today, the stats, the facts, and the numbers are certainly out there. And they are overwhelming. Each quantifying something slightly different.
700 million people suffer from water scarcity.
2 billion people drink unsafe water every day.
443 million school days are lost every year because of water-related illnesses.
They can seem confusing. 2 billion people without water? or is it 700 million? I find myself frustrated trying to sort out the nuances from all the sources. And then I stop. Because any way you slice it, the numbers are quite simply really, really high. Too big to comprehend. Too many zeros to write out. Too heartbreaking.
In Las Liras, Nicaragua, Isaurus smiles as we pass by her home, following the path (stepping over cowpies and avoiding mud puddles) that leads to the river that runs just along the outskirts of the small community. She doesn’t join the group of residents that guide our way, but she knows the path well. Everybody does. Trips back and forth to the river are a necessity. And although the residents here are perhaps not part of the 700 million people suffering from water scarcity, we learn that they are indeed part of the 2 billion people drinking unsafe water each and every day.
We reach the river, a turbulent milk chocolate flow. Young Yubelkis points out the small hole that has been dug on the bank. She reaches in and pulls out some loose sand, digging just a little deeper before water begins to fill the hole from the bottom up. The sand, it seems, provides a natural filter to filter out the sediment. This, I learn, is the first line of defence against the contaminated river water. Bowl by bowl, Yubelkis scoops up the sand-filtered water and fills a four-gallon pail. And she does so with meticulous concentration – despite the man who has jumped in the river and is splashing around feigning a drowning or attempting to photo bomb (it is unclear which), but the community pays no mind, so I simply assume he’s ‘that’ guy. There is indeed one in every crowd. I smile.
Yubelkis hands off the bucket to her mother, Zaida, and we make the return trip up the path, stepping over cowpies and avoiding mud puddles. Filtering the water through a rag, I learn, is the second line of defence. And though this second filtering process is certainly no match for the bacterial contamination that causes dysentery, typhoid, or worse, it has become part of the routine here. Boiling the water takes time and fuel, both of which are often at a premium.
But, despite current challenges, this is a community united. One woman has volunteered her land upon which a community water well will be drilled. They have organized. They are ready. It is now only a matter of time. There are 150 families here. A water well will mean 800 people impacted. It can be tempting to consider the 2 billion in need and briefly feel defeat, subconsciously adding the word ‘only’ in front of 800 people impacted. But, choosing the word ‘incredibly’ instead – incredibly 800 people impacted! – is definitely more fitting. Because all those statistics, they aren’t just numbers. They are people.
And every single one of the 2 billion, of the 7 million, of the 800, is a person who matters.
There is no ‘only’ about it.
That is a fact.