Dirty water kills 180 children per hour

As I have said many times now, I chose to pursue hydrogeology as a specialism because I wanted to find some way of using my geological knowledge to improve the lives of less fortunate people. I may have got distracted for a couple of decades but that is still my over-riding aim. I therefore get very annoyed when climate change sceptics invert reality and claim that malnutrition, starvation and premature death are a consequence of climate change mitigation. Poverty and starvation are not a food distribution problem; they are evidence of over-population. The solution is not more charity; it will only ever be fewer births. In the meantime, we must deal with the way the world is; not how we would like it to be. However, we must also not grow weary of stating and re-stating the problem; otherwise the situation will only ever get worse. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan promoted the need for wealth creation in order to improve the lot of the least fortunate. However, although I am not a Socialist and I do not believe in punitive taxes on richer people to re-distribute wealth (on the contrary I believe in the idea of small government and a Big Society), I am not going to kid myself that the “trickle down” effect is anything other than a cruel myth. The greatest failing of global Capitalism has been the fact that it has increased global inequality. However, far more insidiously, it has secured its supremacy by means of unjust trade agreements and market distortions that favour those who are already wealthy. Therefore, I think anyone who is a Christian should at very least question whether Capitalism, which may well have proven itself the best means of promoting wealth creation, is as good as it could be. I say this because: — “The Lord detests dishonest scales but accurate weights find favour with him.” (Proverbs 11:1) And before anyone gets too upset, there is nothing intrinsically evil about Capitalism: It is not immoral to be in business and make a profit. However profiting at the expense of others is immoral. The Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil; it says the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). There is a big difference. So, why headline “Dirty water kills 180 children per hour” for today’s post? I will let the email I received yesterday from Tearfund speak for itself:

Every 20 seconds, a child under the age of five dies because of diarrhoea. They don’t live long enough to go to school to learn how to build a future for themselves. They’re killed by an utterly preventable illness, that those of us living in the UK would find easy and cheap to treat. We’ve done some research, looking at Mali, Zambia and Ethiopia, to find out why it’s so hard for many people to get the medication, healthcare and public services they need. We called it Diarrhoea Dialogues because it’s important that we all keep talking about this until we find a way for children to stop dying. Only then will the conversation finish. That’s why Tearfund, working with and through the local church, has been helping communities to have clean water and a safe place to go to the loo. We’ve been doing it for more than 35 years, and millions of people have led healthier and happier lives as a result. There has been encouraging progress globally on access to water, with 2 billion more people gaining access to water since 1990. But there are still 780 million people without clean water and 2.5 billion without access to a basic toilet. That’s why we’re excited about the UK Government’s announcement to double their support for water and sanitation and help 60 million people to get clean water and basic sanitation by 2015. Here’s our response. We’ve been asking for this for a while. In 2011, thousands of Tearfund supporters joined World Walks for Water along with hundreds of thousands of others around the world, and lobbied the UK Government to help people who live without clean water or basic sanitation. Tearfund is leading the global church to break the silence on this issue: to speak out on behalf of the millions who, for the lack of these basic services, are locked in extreme poverty. Tearfund’s global network of church partners is enabling communities to build and maintain their own toilet and water facilities. Addressing water and sanitation through our local church partners is one of the most cost-effective ways to release people from poverty: for every £1 spent on water and sanitation, £8 is returned through saved time, increased productivity and reduced health costs.

This is Christian Aid Week here in the UK, so I would not want to diminish all the good that is made possible as a result of charitable giving. However, I also feel that no-one should be under any illusion that all charitable giving is little better than applying a sticking plaster to a gaping wound; because poverty is not just a wealth distribution problem. If everyone lived like people in wealthy countries do today, there is no way that the Earth could support 7 billion humans. Therefore, unless we want to continue to guarantee the premature deaths of millions of poor people, we who have the luxury of a choice must learn to moderate our over-indulgence and seek a more equitable distribution of opportunity.


About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Economics, Environment, Ethics, Intergenerational Injustice, Politics, Scepticism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dirty water kills 180 children per hour

  1. JZK says:

    Hey Rick, The fastest way to provide those people clean water is to provide them inexpensive energy sources. Prudent, managed development is the answer to their problems. There is plenty of water in the world to support 7 or even 10 billion people. It is just a matter of management. I do notice that there is a loose correlation between population growth and the level of development of a country. The more they are developed, the slower the population grows. So, development seems to bring a slower population growth as an additional benefit. What is your solution to reducing the birthrate?


    • Rick Altman says:

      I agree that what is needed is inexpensive energy sources. However, I do not agree that fossil fuels are in that category (as the cost of our continued use of them is almost now incalculable). The lowest technology is not a coal-fired power station; it is micro generation. There may well be enough freshwater on the planet for 7 or 10 billion people. However, if everybody wasted as much of it as we do in the West we would need an awful lot more of energy-intensive water treatment plants to cope with the increased throughput. Development does indeed allow countries to complete the demographic transition to low both low birth and death rates. Our problem (as a planet) is that – as a result of denying that we are causing the Earth’s climate to change for the last 20 or 30 years – we no longer have the luxury of time or the conventional energy reserves to allow the rest of the world to develop the way that we have. We must help them learn from our mistakes; not just allow them to be repeated. Ignorance is no longer a viable excuse. As I said – or at least implied – the solution to the birth rate problem is the education and emancipation of women (and the ending of religious objections to contraception). This does not in any way justify the enforced sterilisation programmes of autocratic and despotic Socialist governments like that in Uzbekistan.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s