Five Ordinary Things That Save Your Life

Yesterday, The Week Magazine featured 5 Ordinary Things that Save Your Life.

#1 stood out to me.

1. Tap Water

Water is problematic. You need it to live, but it's practically aching to kill you. Naturally occurring water, even when not soiled by human contact, can be swimming with an untold number of murderous micro-organisms.

Treated tap water may not be nearly as palatable as Evian, but it's ubiquitous, affordable, and you can drink it without getting sick or dying. For most of history, that simply wasn't true.

Common waterborne illnesses have been laying waste to humanity all over the world for all of time. Diseases like botulism, cholera, E.coli, Legionnaires' disease, Hepatitis A, SARS, and all the sicknesses that killed your family when you played Oregon Trail. ("Yoda has died of typhoid.") These diseases still ravage the third world. But where there is regulated tap water, they are rare.

I thought this was notable, not only because its a reminder of how good we have it in the modern, developed country that we live in, but also because of the mindset it reflects. We all played the old computer game Oregon Trail and giggled at the names of diseases we'd never heard of because we live in a time and place where they are virtually unknown. The problem that I see with this phrasing, though, is that people on the Oregon Trail, who died over 150 years ago, are put in the same category as people living and dying today in developing countries. The correlation makes it seem as though we are lucky, but unfortunately can't share that good fortune with folks from the past. Which, of course, we can't. 

But folks who are dying from water-borne illnesses in East Africa and Haiti and other places aren't in the past. They aren't suffering today due to a lack of global technology development. They are suffering due to a very present, very fixable problem with affordable solutions. 

Often, we put the problems of other folks in the same category as the problems of folks from the past -- "We just can't do anything about it." But we can. We can empower local people to drill clean water wells. We can raise money for filtration systems. Rain collection technology is affordable and possible.

We can make clean water a problem of the past for everyone.

If, that is, we stop assuming that we can't. There are no forgone conclusions in the present or the future. 

Let's do it.