It was August 2019 when I was last published in PM magazine. I wrote about the failure of cast iron soil pipe, which now has customers often waiting two weeks or often longer for a plumber. As the plumbing instructor at Ultimate Technical Academy, the administration is adding classes to accommodate the need for plumbers as quickly as possible.
Our world is in a state of constant change. The plumbing industry was caught off guard and hit with not only the cast iron failure but demand was compounded with the uncertainty and the ever-changing situation surrounding COVID-19, vaccinations and variants. Hundreds of thousands died from the virus or related diseases. Our industry was considered essential workers, and we have lost our share to death and disability as well. We have many good, hardworking people trying to do our part to keep the U.S. population healthy and safe, but I don’t know anyone not touched in some way over the past three years. We seem to be on the downhill side of the pandemic, but only time will tell.
Already we hear people question, “What is going to be the next big thing to attack humanity?” I don’t know if this is just the negativity that comes with a fatalistic attitude caused by what we’ve seen, or an attempt to mentally prepare for an uncertain future. What I do know, is that the next big threat to human life is already here and was here years before COVID — water, or the lack of clean drinking water, is the next big threat. National Geographic states while 71% of the earth is water only 1.2% is clean enough to drink.
We live in a time where 40% of the Earth’s population lives in water-stressed areas. The World Health Organization believes water stress will increase to 50% by the end of 2025. They also believe 25% of the world’s drinking water is contaminated while more than one billion people practice open defecation, or relieving themselves, on the ground. UNICEF claims one in three people drink contaminated water. Contaminated water kills more than 700 children under the age of five every day. UNICEF reports that COVID kills children under five at a rate of 0.4% or 12,300 annually, while contaminated drinking water has killed more than half a million under five years old.
The United Nations Development Program reports that 31 countries do not have access to potable water. Healingwaters.org has recognized the disappearance of Cholera, Diarrhea, Dysentery, Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Polio and many other waterborne illnesses when clean water and sanitation are provided. When you live in a country without plumbers, the only alternative is medical treatment which is often provided by Doctors Without Borders.
The United States has the third largest population in the world. Because of the approximately 130,000 plumbing companies, our citizens can drink from almost any tap without worry. We have the resources to solve many of the issues dealing with contaminated water, however, we recently saw the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, shut off water to surrounding communities due to insufficient supply and the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, lose its water supply because of outdated infrastructure. With around a half million plumbers and pipefitters, plus administration and support staff, we certainly have the manpower to solve the United States’ water problems whether it involves potability or supply. When you add 288,800 mechanical engineers and $85.5 billion dollars in annual manufacturing revenue, we can and will solve these water problems. Manufacturing has doubled down on its efforts to reduce consumption and waste as well.
There are over 30 organizations working with the United Nations, as well as many other charitable organizations both large and small, doing what they can to help with the water crisis all over the world. Oftentimes, these organizations lack trained manpower, engineering, organization, materials and money. There is no shortage of desire in these groups to help solve these problems. I believe there are a number of people reading this article who have tried to help in some way as well. Many have traveled to foreign countries to offer hands-on help.
I was surprised on a recent trip to Guatemala to discover how Americanized I am. I was there for a week trying to figure out how to get water to a small village. My focus was on drinking water. After returning to the United States, I was feeling a bit let down because some of my ideas were met with what I saw at the time as resistance. It took a week for me to understand what these people needed was water, any water. The people of the small village were getting their water by hand. They would carry five-gallon buckets a quarter of a mile from a deep ravine. The ravine channeled clear water, but not drinkable water. This stream ran through beautiful open fields where cattle grazed. Each bucket of water was around 42 pounds. The water was used for cooking, laundry, bathing and filtering what they could to drink. Drinking water piped to your home in central America is rare. In the cities, most houses only have municipal water one or two days a week. Water is stored on their roofs in 250-gallon containers. This could be made drinkable for less than 35 cents a day, but not without education.
Water problems are worldwide in nature. I have friends in Peru that live with the same problem of potability and supply because their piping is outdated. Increased demand in surrounding villages has reduced their water supply to two days a week. In Tanzania, the groundwater is contaminated with fluoride from volcanic activity causing weak bones and brown teeth. They have found a solution in building rain reclamation centers, which work great if it rains. Saudi Arabia gets most its water from desalinization plants. California now gets more than 10% of its water the same way, but this process is very expensive.
Because of the approximately 130,000 plumbing companies, our citizens can drink from almost any tap without worry. We have the resources to solve many of the issues dealing with contaminated water, however, we recently saw the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, shut off water to surrounding communities due to insufficient supply and the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, lose its water supply because of outdated infrastructure.
Water is life. Clean water does not solve sanitation problems. When you have one billion or 15% of the world’s population defecating on the ground or directly into our waterways, we must also include education. There are so many ways to properly dispose of human waste, and it can be done very inexpensively. These changes can have a huge impact on the improved health of a community or a country. However, change does not come easy. With the technology we have today, there must be a way to develop simple restrooms which do not use water and can be designed and adapted to work in different environments.
So, what can we do to impact this tragedy and extend the existence and quality of humanity on this earth? While discussing this with a good friend he pointed out this type of project requires passion. This kind of passion develops deep within a person. This passion might be triggered by seeing with your own eyes these sick children, or from having made a wonderful living working within our industry and feeling the need to give something back in a meaningful way. It might be that you can sympathize with parents who must struggle to provide water and healthcare for their ailing child, or even gainful employment.
My next article will more deeply address causation and possible solutions.
Ultimate Technical Academy is trying to keep up with the shortage of technicians while contributing to a large number of charities and will support these efforts. I have chosen to start this discussion with the hope of impacting the lives of people in areas suffering from these water crises while continuing to teach at UTA. If you are interested in being a part of this discussion, please direct your communication to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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