By Allison Reilly, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Allison was a Pulitzer Center Campus Liaison at Saint Louis University during the 2009-2010 school year.
Originally published in The University News of St. Louis University
Throughout the summer, Russia shuts off the hot water for six weeks in various cities "to do repairs" on the pipes. When I began my study abroad program in St. Petersburg, I happened to catch the last few weeks of the stint. My roommate braved the cold shower first on that first day, saying the water is as if "it's been left out all winter."
Normally, cold showers in the summer wouldn't be all that bad, except summer in St. Petersburg means a daily average temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I don't think that's weather suitable for a cold shower. For two weeks, I thirsted for a hot shower, and when it finally came back through the faucet in brown dysfunctional spits, I still had to wait a day or so before I could quench my thirst.
But I am still very fortunate to be able to take a shower on a daily basis, as well as have enough water to fulfill my daily needs. More than 1.1 billion people do not have access to a safe and adequate water supply, approximately the entire country of India. Last year, contaminated rivers displaced more than 25 million people, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Water Report from 2006. That's more than was forced to flee from war zones and more than the population of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas combined. But this isn't an issue that's only affecting the world's poor or war-torn areas.
According to the Associated Press on Oct. 27, 2007, 36 states are projected to have water shortages by the year 2013. This is to affect big metropolitan areas such as Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago and Las Vegas. Reuters on March 10, 2009 added Los Angeles and Phoenix to the list. Not to mention that according to The New York Times of Dec. 7, 2009, more than 29 million Americans have been provided unclean water, containing contaminants such as arsenic, uranium and bacteria found in sewage. The depletion of water levels and the lack of access to clean water isn't just an issue in low-income countries or in developing countries. It's an issue in every country, to every person because every person needs water to live.
I'm not writing this to make anyone feel guilty, to preach some do-gooder message or to put a damper on the day. If compelled to do something, just realize the average American uses 160 gallons of water per day, according to the Common Language Project, a non-profit media organization that reports on social justice issues from around the world. The average Ethiopian lives on less than five gallons per day. The minimum recommended by the World Health Organization is 5.5 gallons per day.
I'm just putting the issue out there as something to think about. Something best pondered in a cold shower, perhaps?