At a time when proper handwashing with soap and water is more important than ever to fight the spread of COVID-19, we are reminded of the scarcity of water for 2.7 billion people across the world. This scarcity is exacerbated by the impacts of climate change on water—the theme for this year’s World Water Day. Not everyone has sufficient access to water, and—as this current pandemic is demonstrating—populations with less access are often the most at risk for disease.

For this year’s World Water Day, we at DT Global wanted to highlight the vital importance of water and hygiene. We challenged our staff to think about how to safely and effectively cut back on water usage to preserve water resources, especially in the face of this pandemic and climate change impacts—which only exacerbates the water needs of the most vulnerable among us.

For any staff who chose to participate in the challenge, we asked them to try to use no more than 20 liters of water for the day. This is the WHO-estimated minimum level of water needed to ensure sufficient hydration and take care of basic personal and food hygiene needs (laundry and bathing often require higher amounts), though we exempted handwashing due its critical importance at this time. 

Insights on Completing the 20 Liter Challenge

This challenge proved tough but helped our staff to think creatively about what they really need versus what they use, and ways to think about water conservation methods in their everyday lives. Here’s what the challenge looked like for one of our staff members, Mark Strohben:

“When I was asked to join the World Water Day Challenge and limit my water use to 20 liters for the day (approximately 5 gallons), I was initially pretty confident about my ability to do so. After all, years ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia, the only water I used was the water I hauled to my hut from one of the community wells. It was an excellent deterrent to keep me from using any more water than was necessary for basic hygiene, coffee, Gatorade, and a daily bucket bath to cool down from the 100+ temperatures. 

But the March 22 World Water Day Challenge was hard. I was constantly reminded throughout the day how much our infrastructure makes it easy for us to access water on demand and in any quantity desired. I was able to reach the 20 liter goal by strategically planning out meals that didn't require boiling or substantial washing of dishes or pans, such as sandwiches instead of lentils or pasta; ensuring I prioritized water for hydration; and by adding bricks to the toilet tank to reduce the flush level from 3 gallons to 1 gallon.

I also learned there is a whole industry waiting to help us switch to water efficient shower heads, faucets, and toilets, and the options don't have to be cost-prohibitive. My lesson from March 22 is that to truly have a long-term impact, I will need to take actions that prioritize conservation and efficiencies on a daily basis by incorporating new habits, remaining intentional, and deciding to be aware.”

Thanks to Mark and all the DT Global staff that participated in this challenge. As DT Global tackles some of the world’s most important development challenges, we stand ready to practice, learn, and always do better.