In northern Kenya, Nolmekiji Lenkililli fills a large plastic container with water at her village’s first gravity-fed reservoir. In Maine, intern Ana Rapp tries to measure a wiggling silver fish just plucked from the Sedgeunkedunk Stream. On her Idaho farm, Cindy Mann watches her newly-installed pivot save 400,000 gallons of water with each rotation.
Every day, all around the world, women are connecting with water. Indeed, water is at the core of women’s responsibilities in many societies, and millions of women and girls spend their days collecting and preparing water for cooking, cleaning, drinking and maintaining sanitation.
In the United States, most of us simply lift a handle or turn a knob and out it pours. The search for clean water doesn’t stop us from working or attending school. It doesn’t take us to dangerous parts of town.
But regardless of where we live, women are dependent on clean water for our health and our happiness, to nourish ourselves and our families.
A Fabric Unraveling
From the tiniest blue threads to mile-wide ribbons, rivers stitch together our lands. The natural cycling of water — falling from sky to ground, seeping into wetlands and aquifers, flowing through forests and cities and out to the ocean — connects us all.
Water supply threatened
But we have pulled at these threads for centuries, extracting water for everything from growing crops to producing energy, and these demands on our waters are weakening the fabric.
“We’re turning a corner to greater water scarcity,“ says Nicole Silk, managing director of the Conservancy’s global freshwater team. “We’re starting to use more water than comes in through the precipitation cycle, depleting underground aquifers and even making water unusable.”
As we take more water from nature and develop lands that act as natural sponges, we risk unraveling water’s benefits even further — depleting fish stocks, reducing drinking water supplies and spoiling natural places that we love.
Women Can Help Reconstruct Nature’s Patterns
Fixing these problems on a global scale will take the big ideas and participation of all of society.
“Everyone has a role to play, but making a difference for water involves bringing people together and tackling complex issues — two things women are particularly good at,” says Silk. “Women can be a force for steering sustainable use and conservation in households, classrooms, farms, governments and businesses around the world.”
With her container full, Nolmekiji returns home. The walk takes only 10 minutes, leaving her more time to make crafts that earn income for her family. Seven-thousand miles away in Maine, Ana carefully opens her hands beneath the water, hopeful the small salmon she’s releasing will make it upriver to spawn. Her work to monitor fish populations in Maine will help show how removing dams can help rivers around the world rebound.
Reviving our waters is like making a quilt: you work with what you have. And the more people who are working on the different parts, the faster it goes. In the case of fresh water this means involving women and men everywhere in protecting and, in some cases, reconstructing the natural patterns that ensure that all of us have the safe and available water we need.
Kate Frazer is a senior writer for The Nature Conservancy, where this post first appeared.
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