Publisher’s Note: Erin and I worked together a few years ago, and I was always impressed with her drive and intelligence. You will discover after reading this first guest article that she is passionate about what she does and she wants to inspire us all to change the world.
by Erin Cox
I’ve been a water quality professional now for over 12 years, and for many of those years, I never fully realized the magnitude of importance of my colleagues’ work in making the world a better place. I knew that safe water quality was crucial for life, but I didn’t understand the profound impact that a lack of safe water and sanitation has on millions of people’s daily lives around the world, particularly for women and children.
I grew up in comfortable middle-class midwestern family – and I chose my career field because I simply wanted to help “clean up the environment.” I saw the devastation that agricultural pollution could do to lakes and rivers and wanted to do something about it. I was curious about how such polluted water became our drinking water.
After graduate school in Minneapolis, I got my first professional job with Dr. Mike McGuire in California. Under Mike’s mentorship, I became more involved with drinking water quality, and learned much more technical detail about drinking water treatment and disinfection. The simplicity, yet complexity of providing safe drinking water to our population still fascinates me to this day. It’s a critical service that we all take for granted…we turn on the tap, and we can assume in our country that it’s safe.
While living in California, I met my husband, who is an Air Force pilot. I had to leave my Southern California bastion of comfort and beauty, and travel the country as a military wife. This experience has afforded me the opportunity to work on amazing projects, such as an unfiltered drinking water system (Kodiak, Alaska), water supply plans for communities who only had two months where they could access unfrozen water (Point Hope, Alaska), pilot testing of a 99.7% efficient electrodialysis water treatment plant in the Mojave Desert, and preventing saltwater intrusion of the water supplies in Destin, Florida. I have been blessed with opportunity and it has been a wild and exciting ride!
Then…in 2006, I became a mother. After having my first child, I started thinking about water on a more global scale. I was asked to be the keynote speaker for a conference of young women, inspiring them to pursue careers in science in math. My speaking topic became, “How Science Can Help Save the World.” While doing research, my heart ached as I read the dreary and depressing statistics about how many children still die from a lack of safe drinking water and sanitation.
Here are a few of the facts I learned that have given me a new mission in life:
- A child dies every 20 seconds from a water-related illness (UNICEF).
- More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all deaths, 99 percent, occur in the developing world (World Health Organization).
- Over 1 billion people still do not have access to safe water (UNICEF).
- 2.6 billion people do not have adequate sanitation (UNICEF).
- Water is considered “Women’s Work”
- Women and girls spend more than 10 million “person-years” carrying water, which is 65% of their waking time! (United Nations Development Program)
How do these statistics make you feel? Is there any way you can make a difference? Women around the world have to spend a majority of their waking time getting water, preventing them from living their lives more fully. We know that girls are often pulled out of school at a young age so they too, can start hauling water. Young girls are literally not educated because their more pressing job is procuring water for their families. How can we make this situation better? How can we prevent dozens of children from dying every day when we know how easily those deaths could have been prevented?
Awareness is the first step. I encourage you to let these sad statistics motivate you. Water resources scientists, chemists, and engineers have the power to improve the lives of millions.
Find your purpose and take steps toward making the world a better place in whatever way you can. Each of us has the power to make a difference!