“It was horrible, horrible.” Such were the comments we heard on the national media of many passengers as they left the Carnival cruise ship Triumph early this morning. In short, the cruise ship experienced an engine fire on Sunday and has been either drifting or being slowly towed for the greater part of this week. Passengers hoarded food, sleeping conditions were uncomfortable without air conditioning, and people became afraid as, day after day, their homecoming was postponed. The largest complaint the passengers expressed, however, dealt with sanitation. The toilets ceased function shortly after the ship lost power, leaving nearly 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members without modern facilities. Waste was stored in plastic bags, sinks were used in place of urinals, and passengers reported sewage leaking onto the floors and even causing people to slip and fall. For these vacationers, the nightmare ended this morning as they loaded busses, checked into hotels, took hot showers, and ate a fresh meal. For about 35% of the world’s population, the nightmare ends when they go to sleep, and begins again when they wake.

2.5 billion people lack access to a toilet or even basic sanitation. As Water.org puts it, “More people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet.” Across the globe, public sanitation has risen to the top tier of pressing emergencies for human safety, and the imbalance among nations is staggering. We flush more clean drinking water down our low flow toilets in one flush than people in developing countries use in one entire day. So, what are we to do?

At home

Save water. Catch it, conserve it, treasure it. You can cut down dramatically on your personal water use by taking these five simple steps.

 1. Shorten showers to 5 minutes

2. Install a low-flow showerhead and sink aerators/check for leaks

3. Install high efficiency toilet or displace water in tank with a brick

4. Install a rain barrel and/or rain garden

5. Water Wisely-adjust sprinklers, follow even-odd, irrigate less

So, how does this help people in other countries? Considering out of all the water on earth, less than 1% of it is usable by humans, conserving the water we have conserves it for everyone. It is important to keep in mind the water shortages our third world brothers and sisters face, so we can continue to gain respect for this life sustaining resource by treating each drop as sacred.


There are a number of organizations that work in impoverished countries to build sanitation infrastructure, dig wells, and provide drinking water filters. Below, I have listed a few of those resources. While many international organizations exist, you may also know someone who works on bringing water to those who need it most through philanthropic excursions. Talk to them, see what they know and find out how you can join the cause. If you know of local organizations that work in this area, please leave a comment below and let us see who is a part of this much needed solution.

Many prayers of thanksgiving were muttered as the weary tourists stepped off of their bad dream and into the arms of loved ones and the resources of our fortunate homeland. These voyagers have experienced something most of us never will-they were without basic sanitation resources.  Let us continue to work together to support our third world brothers and sisters but also be mindful of our own aging infrastructure and other challenges of the sustainability of our own water supply.


Local water organizations




International water organizations








More information on the cruise ship


Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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