Milwaukee Water Council, UWM celebrate UN World Water Day
Nearly one billion people around the world do not have access to safe water. Each year, 3.5 million people die due to complications from drinking contaminated water. While the average American family uses 700 gallons of water each day, the average family in Africa gets by on five gallons, according to The Balanced Equation, a documentary produced by three high school students from Racine about the world water crisis.
Milwaukee’s inaugural celebration of United Nations World Water Day on Saturday brought these issues to light with a screening of The Balanced Equation, presented by the Milwaukee Water Council and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the UWM Union. The day culminated with The Wisconsin Walk for Water, a three-mile walk beginning at the Linwood Water Treatment Plant on Lincoln Memorial Drive and ending at Lakeshore State Park.
“The main goal of the event was to create awareness within the community about the importance of water,” says Dr. Murali Vedula, Engineering Program Director at UWM School of Continuing Education and host of World Water Day at UWM. “Milwaukee is working to become the world water hub so we have a reputation to live up to.”
Milwaukee, one of 13 worldwide cities in the UN Global Compact Cities Programme, is making great strides to position itself in the global picture not only from a standpoint of industry, but also through policies and community involvement to address the world’s water problems, says Vedula.
“It’s going to be young people who are inheriting the messes that we leave and who are going to have to fix all of this,” says Dr. David Garman, dean of the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences.
The youth are already stepping up to address solutions. Samantha Noll, Madison Richards, and Sinclair Richards were hand-selected by The Dow Chemical Company and the Keystone Center for Education to create a documentary about the world water crisis in developing countries including Kenya and the Dominican Republic. The award-winning filmmakers, who had started making documentaries in middle school and have launched their own production company, were an obvious choice for the project, which is now used to introduce related high school curriculum.
“I wish everyone could travel to these villages and experience everything we did,” says Sinclair Richards. “It was such an eye-opening experience.”
The Balanced Equation tracks their journey in learning about recently implemented point-of-use water filtration and chemical treatment systems. As the girls pointed out in the documentary, both Kenya and the Dominican Republic presented unique problems in the multifaceted water crisis. Kenyans are subjected to a high rate of disease from the unavailability of clean, filtered water, however, clean bottled water is readily available in countries like the Dominican Republic, but comes at a high price. Poor families in the country can spend more than 25 percent of their annual income on bottled water alone.
The unique problems in each country called for different solutions. The Balanced Equation highlighted the need for portable, low-maintenance, and immediate filtration systems in places like Kenya, such as simple water packets and individual filtering straws. In the Dominican Republic, more emphasis was placed on implementing devices like ceramic water filters, which not only provide a cheap source of safe water, but also create local job opportunities in the manufacture of the filters.
While the girls have their own opinions about which point-of-use system will be more effective, they agree that the key tool to solving the problem will be through education and outreach.
“Knowledge is power. You really can’t do anything about the problem until you know what the issue is,” says Madison Richards. “Learning about what is actually going on can be pretty inspiring.”
“[The Balanced Equation] gives people in developing countries who have less opportunities than us a voice,” says Noll. “I think by producing this documentary, we’re giving them a chance to speak out and share this issue that we’re so passionate about.”
“I hope that this message can get around the world and that we can mobilize more and more resources to make things happen,” says Garman.
The three-mile Wisconsin Walk for Water, with Lake Michigan as its backdrop, gave participants a chance to experience a common routine for millions of people around the world — walking several miles to collect water from sources that are often contaminated. In an effort to simulate this trek, participants were urged to carry buckets of water, which was a surprisingly arduous task for many.
Greg Stromberg, CEO and president of CannedWater4Kids, second-guessed his public pledge to carry 40 pounds of water on his head for the entire walk, while acknowledging the fact that young women and children in many countries often carry more water over longer distances multiple times a day.
“In Wisconsin, all we do here is turn on a faucet and we have clean drinking water,” says Stromberg, whose non-profit organization works to provide clean drinking water for kids in developing countries. “We are so spoiled and have so much abundance.”
Not only is fetching water physically grueling, the time-consuming task also robs many women of receiving an education, says Larry Jozwik, consultant for the Keystone Center for Education and the documentary team’s media advisor.
“You mostly see boys in the schools. Girls are out collecting water. You’re missing a whole part of a generation, the female aspect,” says Jozwik. “If we could only eliminate that, it would be a tremendous help to these countries.”