Water Is A Human Right
We’re Partnering With DigDeep’s Navajo Water Project
In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council legally recognized access to safe drinking water as a human right. For DigDeep, this is a powerful concept, saying that “when we embrace the link between basic water access and human dignity, we begin to rethink the way we use water… challenging pollution, over-consumption, unsustainable use, potential conflict—even transforming the way we help people get access to water for the first time.”
We are proud to support DigDeep, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that every American has clean, running water at home. As part of our monthly give in October 2019 and February 2020, we raised enough funds for DigDeep to install solar-powered water systems inside the homes of two more families. Now, we’re partnering once again with DigDeep to support their Navajo Water Project and their commitment to continuing and expanding access to clean water on the Navajo Nation.
In the middle of a pandemic where hand washing and hygiene are paramount, millions of people in the U.S. are living without access to clean running water. But for many Black, Indigenous, and low-income communities, America’s water crisis has been a constant source of stress in their lives long before the ascent of coronavirus. On the Navajo Nation, nearly one third of homes lack running water, meaning that residents must risk infection to go out and get water from public sources, or stay home and risk infection without water for washing their hands. Among other factors, this is one reason why the Navajo Nation now has the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S.
Simple hand washing can protect from infection, but you need running water and soap to make that happen. It doesn’t cost that much to get those resources to folks who need them—through DigDeep’s Navajo Water Project, a solar-powered water system for one family costs $4,500 and can be installed in just 24 hours.
We are launching a new liquid Hand + Body Wash to support DigDeep’s Navajo Water Project. The Hand + Body Wash comes in three scent combos—Geranium Palmarosa, Lavender Sweet Orange and Grapefruit Mint. It was formulated in the spirit of traditional olive oil soaps, which have a creamy lather that leaves skin feeling clean and refreshed.
Five dollars from every bottle will go to Dig Deep. It will take 900 bottles of soap to buy water and solar power for one family.
The COVID-19 pandemic gives DigDeep’s mission renewed urgency, but the endemic of water deprivation (and its divisions among race and class lines), runs much deeper in this country. We have supported DigDeep prior to COVID, and we will continue our support DigDeep long after the pandemic is behind us.
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We interviewed Annie Lascoe, Chief Relationship Officer for more about the work that DigDeep is doing. This interview has been expanded from materials provided by DigDeep in order to offer more context and clarity.
DigDeep describes itself as a human rights organization not a "water charity." Why is that distinction important?
We believe that water access is a human right, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. As we discuss on our website, we believe human rights are most powerful when recognized by the laws that protect and govern us. Human rights define the basic nature of the relationship between you and your government. When fully recognized, they are often “enshrined” (or written down) as legal tools used to ensure you are treated in a way that recognizes your fundamental human dignity.
There are many human rights, and the right to water is one of the most vital to health and dignity. Kofi Annan said it best: “access to safe water is a fundamental need and therefore a basic human right.”
DigDeep’s projects defend the human right to water and create measurable change. We call this the Human Rights Based Approach, which we practice by treating water poverty as an injustice, treating our recipient communities as important stakeholders, providing specialized attention to address the needs of the most vulnerable, treating humans holistically, and combatting discrimination and exclusion among other things.
Would you describe the water gap as a "hidden issue"? Why do you think that is?
The realities that too many folks living in America face when they don't have water access is a hidden issue indeed. Most people know nothing about the U.S. water crisis, and think that water access challenges only exist on other continents and within countries with much lower GDPs than the U.S. However, in every state there are people struggling without the essential water resources that power so much of our country's prosperity.
Can you talk about the role that our federal government plays (or does not play) in water access? Your short video, Bandit, shows how fast DigDeep can install running water in a home. It is staggering to think that water and solar power can be installed in 24 hours for only $4,500. It seems, therefore, like there should be more funding for this at the national level?
At the end of the day, the government should be providing clean, running water to everyone living in this country. But over 2.2 million Americans still don't have water access, and over 44 million live in places with unclean water. In that vacuum, we are working to create a US WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) sector that can fill that gap. This includes advocating to bring piped water to communities, which is vastly more expensive than our Home Water Systems and demands major government funding and long-term infrastructure investments.
Our Founder George McGraw contextualized this issue in a recent piece for the New York Times, addressing both the history of the water gap and the way it is disproportionately impacting people’s lives during COVID-19. He writes that “it’s no accident that these places tend to be communities of color. Decades ago, they were bypassed by government initiatives to build water infrastructure, and federal funding for water projects is now just a tiny fraction of what it once was. Today, race is the single strongest predictor of whether you have access to a tap or a toilet in your home. Nationwide, Indigenous households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack access to complete plumbing, while African-American and Latinx households are nearly twice as likely.”
In the Close The Water Gap plan, DigDeep proposes that the water sector, government agencies, philanthropy, nonprofits, and the public work together to solve the challenge of water access. Do you see any work currently being done in this intersectional manner? Why is intersectionality important?
Yes, this is essential to create a WASH sector that will solve the US water crisis in our lifetimes. Less than an intersectional approach, we'd characterize this as a cross-sector approach to solve a persistent social issue.
What do you think is important for our readers to know about the people that you are bringing water to?
These communities are resilient and often have tremendous regard for their precious water resources. While they may not have plentiful clean water every time they open a tap, they have the tools to preserve water that we can all learn from as we work together to create a more equitable world.
Can you talk about the Navajo Water Project specifically, and the value of your work in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our core program, the Navajo Water Project, is a community-managed utility alternative that brings hot and cold running water to homes without access to water or sewer lines on the Navajo Nation. More than 30% of Navajo families don’t have clean, running water so those living below the poverty line are forced to buy expensive bottled water or haul dirty water from ponds and livestock troughs up to 50 miles away.
The first system of its kind in the United States, the Navajo Water Project has brought running water for the first time to hundreds of families in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah by developing new water sources, outfitting delivery trucks, and installing hot and cold running water in homes. Our all-Native outreach team installs several systems every week, and each one is installed with the help of the homeowner, who is taught how to maintain, repair, and make upgrades on their system.
It’s important to us that every project is community-led and empowers people to take an active role in their own development. Our Impact Model, or theory of change, highlights community-led solutions, gathering and sharing informative data, empowering young people, and building a diverse, sustainable movement for change through collaboration. We believe that by working together, every American family can have clean, running water in our lifetime, and that by learning to better care for our water resources, we can make them last for future generations.
Thank you to DigDeep and Annie Lascoe. Please support DigDeep directly or through the purchase of soap.
The Meow Meow Tweet blog is a collaborative thought project between the founders of Meow Meow Tweet, Vera Kachouh, and Faye Lesser. This post was written by Faye Lesser.