A project encouraging Americans to live for a few days on the bare minimum of water will help them understand poverty and treat those without clean water as brothers, a water access advocate has said.
“If you really want to live in solidarity with the poor, if you want to build some awareness in yourself about this issue and about the importance of the water that you are so blessed to have access to, take the 4Liter Challenge,” said George McGraw, executive director of DigDeep Water.
“It’s not hard, but it’s incredibly life-changing.”
The 4Liter Challenge, a program of the Los Angeles-based DigDeep Water, is set to run from Oct. 14-21. It asks people to live for several days on four liters of water per day – only slightly more than one gallon; this is the minimum amount of clean water a person needs to survive.
The challenge aims to raise awareness about “water poverty,” the lack of clean water that many poor people face, both in the U.S. and around the world.
“There is, in my experience, no simpler or more profound challenge that can really change the way you look at something so quickly and so effectively,” McGraw told CNA Sept. 30.
“You’ll finish the 4Liter Challenge and you’ll wake up every day, and as soon as you turn on the tap you’ll be reminded of that experience.”
Participants in the challenge can sign up on an interactive site to share their experiences with friends and family and to collect donations to help others access water.
“The 4Liter Challenge simulates that experience of people every day: the experience of having to only collect a little bit of water and figure out what you are going to use it for,” McGraw added.
“It really is a true experience of poverty.”
The program, he explained, aims “to make Americans more conscious of their own water consumption and help them to see their own access to water as an important human right that they need to safeguard.”
According to McGraw, Americans consume more water than anyone else globally, up to 550 liters (145 gallons) per person per day in drinking, cooking, watering the lawn, and other tasks. Experts estimate that 50 liters (13 gallons) per day is needed for a person to live “a normal, healthy life.”
Economic poverty or natural disaster can hinder access to water, as can social or political pressures and infrastructure breakdown.
Almost 800 million people lack access to clean water. About 80 percent of diseases are caused by unclean water, and about 4,500 children die from water-borne illnesses every day.
Water poverty is a significant problem on Native American reservations in the U.S. About 13 percent of reservation residents lack running water or flush toilets, a figure worse than some African or Latin American countries.
DigDeep Water has water access projects in the U.S., South Sudan, Sudan, Cameroon, and Kenya.
McGraw, a Catholic, served as a human rights lawyer in an international development organization before founding the organization.
He said DigDeep Water aims to unite both water conservation efforts and water access efforts. At present, advocacy is spread across separate networks and separate organizations that rarely work together.
“It makes sense to bridge that gap between the two schools of thought. Water is a basic human right that we all need access to. For that reason, we all have a responsibility to safeguard it.”
“From a Catholic standpoint, this is what we talk about when we talk about common goods or basic human dignity being tied to basic human needs. There are certain gifts that God has given us in nature that we use to fulfill our needs and recognize their dignity, which we have first and foremost from him.”
DigDeep Water is a secular organization, but McGraw said his personal philosophy of human rights and human dignity is “centered really firmly in Catholic social teaching.”
He cited Catholic thought’s emphasis on “the structural importance of understanding, first and foremost, that all of our social, economic and environmental issues come from our relationships, not just with each other, but with God.”
“We need to really care, on a personal level, about why water poverty matters. We will not be successful until we understand why it is a problem, why water matters.”
McGraw said he found inspiration in Pope Francis’ words in his recent interview with America Magazine. McGraw said that a “responsive, effective Church” that aims to meet the “wounded” and the “hopeless” needs to “experience poverty, find people in their poverty, and assist them as our brothers and sisters, not as aid recipients far away.”
Water access projects tend to have a high failure rate, but McGraw said this mindset is showing results: all of DigDeep Water’s field projects are still active.
“We have a great relationship with the communities we help, and I think that, as simple as it might be, is why we are successful.”