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How far do you walk for water?

For many of us, clean water is within easy reach. A quick stroll to the office water cooler, refill the bottle and then back to work. In developing countries, many women and children start their day by walking an average distance of 6 kilometres to collect water for their families.

This consumes 200 million daily work hours, a loss of productivity greater than the combined hours worked in a week by employees at six of the biggest multinational corporations including Walmart, McDonald's, and IBM. Children miss school and parents have no time to work and lift their family out of poverty. It affects 783 million people worldwide – two and half times the population of the USA.

It gets worse. The water they find is usually contaminated with diarrhoeal diseases, such as dysentery and cholera, which cause the deaths of 2,000 children every day. This is because 2.5 billion people worldwide live without a private and safe toilet. And when you have to go, you have to go. If you don’t have a toilet, you go in a field, in a bush, or in a plastic bag. No dignity, no privacy…

In recent years, the daily journey of women and children to collect disease-ridden water has assumed a new significance for campaigners, and for organisations like the BMA who help to spread the word that access to clean water and sanitation is vital for health. The World Walks for Water is an annual global event, conceived and coordinated by a group of global advocacy networks, including End Water Poverty of which the BMA is an active member.

Since 2011, on World Water Day, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have walked in solidarity with those affected, while calling on world leaders to end a crisis that kills more than 700,000 children every year.

Why should we walk? Are politicians even taking any notice? Actually, there is clear evidence that they are. The momentum has been growing steadily. With 350,000 participants from 75 countries, the 2011 Walk enabled End Water Poverty to secure the inclusion of an ambitious water and sanitation target in the Istanbul Programme of Action. The 2012 Walk built on this, bringing together 380,000 walkers who called on their governments to attend the biennial Sanitation and Water for All Meeting in Washington DC and commit to decisive action.

This time, the outcome surpassed all expectations. An unprecedented number of Ministers of finance, development and water from 40 countries attended the Washington meeting. Each country made strong commitments in key areas such eradicating open defecation and increasing access to clean drinking water. The UK, in particular, promised to double its commitment to water and sanitation over the next two years from £30 million to £60 million.

It’s vital that governments honour the pledges they have made. The 2013 Walk will be telling decision makers to keep their promises on water and sanitation. Events take place between March 16 and 24. Find out how you can get involved and add your voice.

Martin Carroll is deputy head of the BMA international department

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Join the World Walks for Water and Sanitation
15 - 25 March 2014

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