By Matt DeCapo
As politicians meet to debate key issues for the future, is there anything you wish was being talked about more? When you watch TV programs and news, do you feel that the most important issues we face are being discussed? I firmly believe that the real problems threatening our society and the planet are being overlooked as we distract ourselves with meaningless celebrity gossip and quibble about how to preserve our unsustainable way of life in the face of a recession and changing times.
According to the World Health Organization/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, “37 percent of the developing world’s population – 2.5 billion people – lack improved sanitation facilities, and over 780 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources. Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation services, coupled with poor hygiene practices, kills and sickens thousands of children every day, and leads to impoverishment and diminished opportunities for thousands more.”
You read that right. Thousands of children are getting sick and dying every day from preventable diseases associated with poor sanitation. With this fact in mind and, especially, after seeing some of these people suffering with my own eyes, it seems hard to justify our way of life in the U.S.
We cannot keep ignoring those suffering on the other side of imaginary lines we have drawn on our planet.
We have to speak for those who are born in a place where they are doomed to die at a young age from problems that we have every capability of solving. They are not able to speak about the needs of their people or even experience many of the simple joys of life. We cannot justify inaction, ignorance or complacency when it comes to these issues. I expect more from my fellow citizens and my country.
These children are not suffering because of anything they did; we cannot control the conditions of the world we are born into. But I believe we have a profound responsibility to help those who spend their childhoods attempting to obtain clean water and living near sewage rather than getting an education and pursuing opportunities in their lives.
The consumption patterns of our country and environmental abuses for profit are root causes of the problem. According to a 1998 Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme, “Today’s consumption is undermining the environmental resource base. It is exacerbating inequalities. And the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus are accelerating. If the trends continue without change — not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, not shifting from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, not promoting goods that empower poor producers, not shifting priority from consumption for conspicuous display to meeting basic needs — today’s problems of consumption and human development will worsen.”
Throughout history, there have been uprisings when the gap between the rich and the poor gets too big. A stable world without crime and terrorism will never come to fruition as long as we let these inequalities continue to exist.
If we want to pass on a better world to our kids, we must begin to learn more about these issues and do what we can to help. Join student groups such as Engineers Without Borders and Students for Environmental Action where you can learn more about the complex social, economic and environmental factors responsible for the injustice. More engineering students should learn about sustainable water and sanitation systems and students from all disciplines should think about how their unique skills can contribute to solving these problems.
It is well within our power to take care of everyone on this planet and work toward equality. Will we choose to ignore these issues, go back to our daily lives and allow suffering and needless death to continue? Or will we do what it takes to end the cycles of poverty and oppression that have been passed down to us by previous generations?
I am not saying that we cannot enjoy a good movie with our favorite celebrity. We all need breaks from the stress and unfairness in the world, but our culture and society will have to confront these problems eventually. The longer we wait, the worse they will get and the more people will needlessly suffer without adequate access to clean water, food, sanitation and education.
Learn about where the money you spend goes and how your lifestyle affects other parts of the world. Demand more from your politicians and government, or get involved and bring about positive changes yourself. We can make a profound impact on global problems if enough of us start to do what we can here and now.
Matt DeCapo is a graduate student in geography. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.