World Water Day: Is social entrepreneurship the answer to our water problems?

Shakira Niazi as reported to journalist Jessica Buchleitner – WNN SOAPBOX

Children in the Helmad Refugee Camp in Kabul, Afghanistan pump water
Displaced children in the Helmad Refugee Camp in Kabul, Afghanistan pump water for their family at a well taht was built through the efforts of Salvare Vita Water based in San Fransisco, California, U.S. Image: Vita Water

(WNN) San Francisco, California, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: I first experienced the pain of a parched mouth and dry, cracked lips when I was a refugee at the age of 9. After ten days of carrying my baby brothers and sisters over the strenuous mountain terrain in northern Afghanistan, I was hungry and thirsty and there was no water.

After arriving in Peshawar, Pakistan we stumbled around with nowhere to sleep, no food and worst of all- no clean water to drink. One of the most desperate feelings in the world one can possess is to be thirsty. Thirst drives a person to the brink of veritable insanity. Yet a fate worse than thirst is to be poverty stricken and afflicted with water borne illness.

Today is World Water Day. Since 1993, when the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22 as World Day for Water, the UN and its member nations decided to devote this day to implementing UN recommendations and promoting concrete activities within member states regarding the world’s water resources.

We have observed our water crisis grow progressively worse. Clean water is a socioeconomic and environmental problem facing nearly 1.1 billion people globally, nearly 1/7 of humanity. The United Nations Development Programme and World Health Organization estimate 3.41 million people die from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes each year. During the soviet occupation of Afghanistan when my family fled, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Yet the water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people which is nearly 3 times the population of the United States.

It is difficult to fully conceptualize the extent of the water crisis as it not only affects the overall health of a population but also directly impacts education and economy. For many rural impoverished societies, the nearest water source is miles away. Generally it’s the women and girls in the family that are tasked with retrieving the water for washing and cooking, as I observed upon my return to my country in 2011 where I built a water well in the Kutchi township on the outskirts of Kabul.

Instead of going to school, these young girls and women are forced to travel on foot for miles hauling large containers of water. Retrieving water can take up to an entire day. This lack of basic resources certainly has a long term and hidden economic impact.

Fixing the ‘water problem’ directly impacts every other facet of society. People in affluent countries want to help with world issues, yet are often so busy in their work and family lives to invest a significant amount of time in the process. By connecting products such as simple bottled water to social enterprise, one gives people an easy, effortless and thoughtless way to take action against the world water crisis. How often do you purchase a bottle of water and not think twice about it.

What if such an effortless, thoughtless purchase directly impacted young women in Afghanistan? What if 5 year old Soma in the Farzah village doesn’t have to walk over a mile to fetch water, but rather she has access to clean water near her home? How would that make you feel?

Social entrepreneurship can solve the world’s problems because it focuses on growing business while, at the same time, using its profits towards social programs. Many people think of charity as a handout. Why not make it a business?

I’ve been thirsty before because I was a refugee once myself. I know the feeling of being stuck with two dreadful options: being thirsty or drinking contaminated water. I’m not asking people to agree with me or drop everything and handle this issue; I’m simply requesting that we look for ways to use business for worthy causes.

Solving the water crisis would solve a myriad of health problems including the most common of Cholera, Typhoid Fever and Hepatitis A.

UN assessments say 4,000 children die each day as a result of diseases caused by ingestion of filthy water. It will not be long until these contaminants reach more affluent countries. In our drinking water, there is already estrogen, jet fuel, hormones, nitrates and pesticides. Are we comfortable consuming these substances? It’s time to seek creative solutions towards this crisis and social enterprise business is one strong resource.

Afghanistan born American Shakira Niazi fled the conflict ridden Afghan region with her family when she was nine years old. At the time her family became refugees in the region of Peshawar, Pakistan. Today she is the founder of Salvare la Vita Water, a U.S. based social enterprise venture bottled water initiative that builds water wells in developing countries.

Jessica Buchleitner is a human rights journalist working closely with WNN – Women News Network. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco based UN Non-governmental organization WIN – Women’s Intercultural Network.


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