Beyond World Water Day

March 11, 2017 | By Craig and Marc Kielburger

Children collecting water in rural China. Photo source: WE Charity archives.

Tyler and Alex Mifflin spent summers in the water. Childhood memories of canoe trips and pristine waves contrast heavily with something they heard from adults time and again: “Don’t swim in Lake Ontario. It’s too polluted.”

That warning was the first drop in the bucket that’s become a shared life goal.

Two decades later—after four seasons as hosts, directors and videographers of the award-winning eco-adventure series The Water Brothers—they’ve dipped their toes in bodies of water in over 35 countries, interviewed hundreds of leading scientists, and shot thousands of hours of footage. They travelled down the Mekong and Ganges rivers, went scuba diving with hammerhead sharks and sailed into the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Every episode is paired with interactive educational content that make water issues more accessible to remind people that water is more than a resource—it’s a life source.

March 22 is World Water Day and we need the conversation to extend beyond the environment. So we spoke with the Mifflin brothers about the importance of water and how ordinary people can take action every day in unexpected ways.

“Water is connected to poverty, economic development, health,” says Alex, the passion clear in his voice. “You can’t have a functioning society or a functioning economy if you don’t have clean water.”

That applies to Sub-Saharan Africa as much as to Indigenous communities across Canada.

We’ve seen climate-linked heat waves and food shortages impact millions around the globe. Droughts from Kenya to California and record-setting wildfires across Russia’s bread basket have strained economies and aid systems. Research suggests that water shortages helped spark the Syrian Civil War when a 2006 drought forced farmers to migrate to urban centres as the economy crashed, creating a tinder box of unemployed, angry men.

Most of the political and social issues of our day come back to water—and protecting it requires a major change in lifestyle.

Speaking at schools across the country, Tyler and Alex tell students that half measures are no longer enough. Shorter showers alone won’t save us.

Our well-known water conservation tactics need a boost from less obvious—and often more difficult—actions, like eating foods that require less water, Tyler says. One kilogram of beef takes just under 14,000 litres of water to produce while the same amount of chicken needs only 4,000 litres.

Beyond food, there is a hidden water price tag to almost everything we manufacture. Each plastic water bottle requires twice as much water to produce as the amount it holds. It takes 5,000 litres of water to make 500 sheets of paper and another 713 litres for one t-shirt.

Encouragingly, Tyler and Alex have seen students across the country petition their schools for bottle refill stations and begin litterless lunch movements to reduce the amount of plastic they use.

As people begin to understand the hidden impact of water, they’ll see conservation as a way to help not just the environment but also the economy.

“Every day has to be World Water Day,” says Tyler.

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