Taking taps for granted
By Hannah Jump
“Just a glass of tap water please.”
There is no just when it comes to water, access to water is not just.
When I heard that it was water day coming up I thought about what I could write, and I wasn’t quite sure. I realised that I don’t think about water. I think about the annoying damp patch on the bathroom floor which makes my sock wet. I think about how I forgot my water bottle. I think about whether I will get wet on the way to work. Water is an essential part of human life, yet I just don’t really think about it.
But this is the problem. Water divides the haves and have nots. Water on tap, water that is far from it. Water is either something that you don’t have to think about, or something constantly on the mind. Access to water is a basic human right which is not met across the globe and in the UK.
Last week I met Harun, who was unfortunate enough to be homeless on Thursday night. He was ashamed to show me his dirty hands. He told me about how he was ashamed that he smells. This stops him from going into free public spaces, such as libraries, because ‘people stare’. He washes in McDonalds toilets, but sometimes the water is too cold and it makes him ill. The local hostel was full, but Harun told me he couldn’t go anywhere else, he was too dirty. I realised that for Harun, not being able to access water causes more than immediate hygiene problems. Harun is physically stained by the dirt of the streets, which makes him more likely to become sick, removes his dignity and prevents him from using the facilities he has the right to access. These factors further perpetuate the issues he faces.
Harun’s sleeping bag was stolen on Wednesday night as he was going for a pee. Whilst most people in the UK take access to a toilet for granted, the homeless are denied this. For women, limited access to sanitation is even more tormenting. With every period comes humiliation, discomfort and upset, problems which are a million times worse on the streets where facilities are limited, and sanitary products an unaffordable expense, a harsh reminder of vulnerability. Many homeless people in the UK are forced to live in unsanitary, inhumane conditions. Whilst a lack of sanitation is a public health issue, even in the UK people do not have access to basic facilities.
I can’t help thinking about the irony of this all; it is the homeless who are first to get wet in the rain but last to get a shower. So whilst you don’t have to think about water, think about those who do.
What you can do
- Think about what you have and appreciate it
- If you feel comfortable chatting to people, see if people you pass on the streets want a chat; if you are a little more introverted give a smile or a ‘good morning’
- If you see a homeless person, you can use StreetLink to notify local services, who will then (hopefully) direct support to the person
- Donate to the Homeless Period and Every Month to support campaign work and the distribution of sanitary products to homeless women
- Support a local homeless shelter or day centre such as The Manna Society in London Bridge
What you can do for water
4Water is an innovative group that ‘puts the fun in fundraising’ by exchanging skills – dance, arts, yoga, languages – for charitable donations. These all go to WaterAid. You can kickstart a project of your own, sign up for an ongoing project (there are clubs all over – type ‘Dance4Water’ into your facebook search and see!), or simply donating. By 2018, the mission to ensure that every person can access safe water and basic sanitation should really be a thing of the past. Go dancing and help to make it so!