Water Water Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink

Submitted by Mike Moritz '11 on April 13, 2011

Think about the time you have spent showering and drinking bottled water in the past week. Now envision the water you used for one of those showers and contemplate making it last for next week’s batch of showers. This is what Evelyn Saiter ‘11 had to do and learn the hard way while studying abroad in Brazil. Saiter, along with 5 other students who either conducted research or visited a country with poorly-supplied water, gave explanations of their findings on Wednesday, April 6th in the Lower Level BCC. Along with these 6 students were professors Dr. David Brown and Dr. William Vasquez Mazariegos to help facilitate the discussion, which was sponsored by JUHAN, the Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network.

Originally from Guatemala, Dr. Vasquez led his portion of the presentation by saying that he felt guilty for taking a 10-minute shower that day. He explained that even though Latin America has some of the richest resources, many countries including Guatemala are failing to provide clean water even if it is just for drinking. Vasquez told the audience that the main problem comes down to management. While financial matters are definitely at hand, the main problem is finding a way to provide clean water for everyone when the tools and brainpower to accomplish that are not necessarily present. In order to understand how drastic the situation is, Vasquez advised the audience to go one day without water, which when you think about it, would be a very challenging thing to do.

Following Vasquez’s presentation on his work in Guatemala was David Brown’s assertion that instead of spending so much money on energy, the government needs to find ways to better provide clean water. He told the audience about Greene County, Pennsylvania, which had a serious problem of water pollution. He was asked to conduct a study in the area about why there was a decline in life expectancy. Brown found that the water people had been drinking contained methane, which is incredibly dangerous. He said that if you held a lighter up to the faucet and turned the water on, the sink would catch on fire!

Among the panelists were:

  • Evelyn Saiter ’11 (Major: International Studies, Minor: Latin American and Caribbean Studies) who studied and conducted research in Brazil
  • Emily Mandler ’11 (Major:  Finance, Minor: Economics) who went to Nicaragua for research
  • Beatriz Narbone ’12 who shared her experiences in Panama
  • Michelle Mistretta ’11 (Major:  Mathematics, Minor: Economics) and Danielle Iovino ’11 (Major:  Mathematics, Minor: Economics) who conducted research for Dr. Vasquez’s Comparative Economic Systems class on Belize
  • Chelsea Gover ‘11 (Major:  Finance, Minor: Economics) and Kerri Nuzzi ’11 (Major:  Finance, Minor: Economics) who shared their findings on the water supply in Mexico

Saiter, Mandler, and Narbone all had very similar experiences of the scarcity of water where they studied, and the caution people had to take before using any. Narbone also made it clear that the citizens of these countries need to demand change about their water supply. Mistretta and Iovino clarified that the water in Belize was often polluted in rural areas and much cleaner in urban parts of the country. Gover and Nuzzi explained that the main reason you should not drink water in Mexico is because there is a lack of it, not because it is polluted.

Attending an event like this was a real eye-opener for me. It is easy to take such a simple resource like water for granted, but after this presentation I now consider it a luxury, especially when compared to what other countries have around the world.

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