Many people around the world do not have easy access to clean, safe water. Have you ever wondered what you can do to make a difference?
In this podcast episode, Lorrie King from the United Methodist Committee on Relief shares just how pervasive the problem is, and offers everyday tips that will help us conserve and protect God's precious gift of water.
Lorrie King and UMCOR
- WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)
- Food Security program at UMCOR
- Global Ministries, Global Health
- Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church
- In 2014, Lorrie King was named one of CNN's 10 Visionary Women: Stigma Stopper.
- Contact Lorrie at [email protected].
Popular resources on UMC.org
- Read A Christian calling: Save water, save lives by Joe Iovino.
- Watch Flowing Water: The Christian Connection.
- Read Christians and Creation: 'You can't love God and ignore the Earth.'
- Read official statements about water from The United Mehtodist Social Principles and Book of Resolutions.
- Bonus: Explore the United Methodist Women's website on water use.
More Get Your Spirit in Shape episodes
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This episode was first published on Aug. 11, 2017.
In the studio
Joe: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.
Lorrie: Imagine you wake up in the morning and you can’t wait to drink your very first cup of coffee, to smell that aroma and to hold that cup in your hand.
Joe: That’s Lorrie King. She works for the Global Health Division of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, commonly known as UMCOR.
Lorrie: Only when you get up you’re in a hut in the middle of the refugee camp and in order to get your first cup of coffee or your first drink of water you have to walk two miles to a river and then carry back a 5-gallon bucket on your head.
Joe: I had an idea this summer to write a story for UMC.org about water conservation. Then I interviewed Lorrie and I quickly realized just how big the topic is.
Lorrie: Imagine rolling out of bed in the morning; you’re ready to hit the shower and take on a new day. And you jump in and the water starts to burn your skin, not because it’s hot, but because it’s contaminated. This is the reality for people who live on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.
Joe: Can you imagine? Are you beginning to feel what a tremendous resource clean water is? In this conversation Lorrie and I talk about the problem and things you and I can do to help make a difference.
On the phone
Lorrie: Thanks again, Joe, seriously. Thank you so much for taking on the water issue and for being willing to talk about it. You know, it’s one of those things that we take for granted so much that people…they don’t even stop to think about it. Or they don’t even delve into it. So, seriously, thank you for that.
Joe: I just learned so much from our conversation that I was really excited to share that with other people.
So let’s start here. Tell me about your title and what it means.
Lorrie: I am the manager for WASH and that is just like it sounds, like washing something, which stands for Water and Sanitation and Hygiene, and Food Security, which means anything you can think of with growing food, storing food, producing food, getting the food to the market, and preserving the environment and livelihoods. And Livelihoods means having market access for what it is that you are producing. So if I’m a farmer that means I have access to get my food stuff to the market. If I am a woman and I am a tailor or I am a baker, it means that I have access to the marketplace. I might also need some training in whatever my vocation is and additional skills-building, and maybe I need some help learning how to make a business plan or start an internal savings and loan group. That’s kind of what I do every day.
Joe: When you are talking about water to groups of people, how do you help us understand just how important of an issue this is?
Lorrie: Well, water is life. We can only sustain ourselves for days at a time without water. And our bodies are made of…. You can look this up and there’s always a varying percentage, but anywhere between like 83% to 96% water. Even our teeth have water in them. So water is vital to life.
Joe: And what are some of the issues that come up across the globe?
Lorrie: Well, across the world the number one killer of children under five is diarrheal diseases. And diarrheal diseases come about from contaminated water sources. And so that’s a big issue right there.
Also, when we think about how much water do we need to function every day? Just let that sink in for a minute. Think about brushing your teeth. Think about flushing the toilet, taking a shower, washing your hands, maybe boiling water to have some tea, cooking your pasta—whatever that may be.
We have an organization called Sphere. Just think of a circle, a sphere. That Sphere organization, sets what are called the minimum humanitarian standards around the world. So that means if I’m in a disaster setting—think about for a natural disaster, perhaps a war, an internally displaced situation where people are fleeing some kind of conflict or refugee camp—those Sphere standards tell us what our minimum things are that we need to survive as a human being every day.
Right now the minimum Sphere standards for water are 15 liters. Now 15 liters equals out to just under 4 gallons. So think of your big orange 5-gallon bucket from Home Depot. And think of one gallon left in that. That is what a minimum is to survive every day. And if you think of the ubiquitous pictures of refugees carrying those big yellow Jerry cans on their heads, that’s what 15 liters looks like. And that’s why those Jerry cans are made to fit that purpose—15 liters minimum standard.
Joe: How much does the average American use every day?
Lorrie: We can use up to a hundred.
Joe: A hundred liters?
Lorrie: A hundred liters. And there’s again, like, varying statistics on that. But just think about brushing your teeth, right? How many of us actually turn the water off in between? There’s a lot of us that do, but there’s probably just as many of us that don’t. There’s a great commercial—I want to say, it’s at—I don’t know if it was Charity Water or Water Aid or UNICEF Water. But they have this great image of a person brushing their teeth. And then it faded to a child in a refugee camp filling up a cup of water. And then it went to a mother filling up a pot for cooking, and then it went to cows drinking at a trough. And at the end of the commercial it faded back into the person finishing brushing their teeth. And so for the time that it takes the average person to brush their teeth, all of this water could be used for those reasons.
Joe: Does the water I consume here in my home, thousands of miles away from the places we think of where water is a need, does that really make a difference?
Lorrie: It really does. It really does. When we think about our natural resources, now more than ever it’s in the headlines, right? What are my natural resources? How is our changing climate affecting those natural resources? We see in the developing world and we see here at home issues of water rights and water conservation. We see issues of drought. These are things that we can no longer ignore.
Here’s something that’s really interesting for a lot of people to learn. The water in our homes is not always safe, even here in the United States, thousands of miles away. I can give you an example from right here at the Global Ministries headquarters in Atlanta. We have an area of town that’s called Peoplestown. Peoplestown is a little bedroom community of Metro Atlanta. And it’s also a minority-based community. It’s low income housing. And every year in the summer, as people in the South know, we get some amazing torrential storms that come through, sometimes on a daily basis, because it’s…you know, it’s humid. It’s thunderstorming.
Well, when we get that kind of deluge, what happens? I mean, even in our streets that aren’t in low-income communities, you get water runoff, right? And there’s always the weather service send you a weather alert that says, Be careful when you’re driving because you’re hydroplaning, right? Well, what’s also happening is that your sewer system, if it’s backed up there’s water runoff. If it’s going into the drains it’s picking up what’s in the drains and then moving them down the street. So the watersheds in this area of Peoplestown is contaminated on a daily basis during the summer.
If you live in a home, say, that’s older…. My home was built in 1932. The home I was living in before this one was built in 1940 and I had to do some major renovation in that home. And that included replacing pipes that were underneath that were lead pipes packed with Oakum. And, yeah, that’s old-school plumbing. They don’t do that anymore. But, nonetheless, you’re drinking water that’s coming out of those pipes. In a lot of low-income areas there are still lead pipes. There is still asbestos. There are still contaminants in the water.
For many of our Native American brothers and sisters, reservation lands are notoriously contaminated. And this is coming from runoff. It’s coming from strip mining. It’s coming from blast mining. I can give you an example of what’s happening right now on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Blast mining has contaminated the first level of the water aquifer. And the water aquifer is a fancy way of saying that where the water lives underneath the surface of the ground. And it’s usually there in levels. So we will refer to it as the first aquifer or the second aquifer. And that also tells you how deep down you’re gonna have to drill in order to hit water, right?
Joe: The first aquifer is closest to the surface?
Lorrie: Exactly. The first aquifer is the one that’s closest to the surface. Well, because of blast mining, the first aquifer is contaminated. So imagine that you’re in the shower every morning, but you can’t hang out in there too long because the water starts burning your skin because it’s contaminated with sulfur dioxide because of the contaminants that were knocked into that aquifer by blasting. The water is not potable. And you can’t even bathe in it.
Joe: This summer my daughter was on a mission trip on a reservation, and she learned about these issues firsthand. These water issues, we tend to think to think of them as issues overseas, far away from those of us in the United States. But actually they’re around us quite a bit, especially in Native American communities.
You and I talked before for an article, and you mentioned things that I hadn’t immediately thought of, like Flint, Michigan or what’s happening in Standing Rock. Can you tell us some of the examples of places where you’ve seen these water crises?
Lorrie: The first ones that obviously come to mind for people, Flint, Michigan is one of them. Again, what are we dealing with? It’s always that we have enough resources for everyone on this planet. The question is, who’s holding access to those resources? Or the money to access those resources? So we’re constantly seeing over and over again marginalized communities are taking the blunt of this.
Perfect example is Flint. The community by itself does not have the means by which to defend itself. Luckily they have somebody like Michael Moore, you know, who’s out there with his megaphone, who’s from Flint, Michigan, making sure that everybody knows about this. But what about the places that don’t?
Another example in the United States I think of is Hinkley, California. Remember Erin Brockovich? That was a true story. Hinkley, California is another one of those examples.
Standing Rock. The water rights for Native peoples, this has more to do with than just water. It has to do with respecting their sovereignty and their land.
We have another example in the United States. We work closely in a tri-county area in northern Kentucky, the Clay, Bell and Leslie counties. There’s another example of how decades of mining have contaminated an entire watershed. The water became undrinkable in those areas.
Joe: A lot of the United Methodists know that area as the Red Bird Missionary Conference. That’s what we’re talking about?
Lorrie: Yeah, we’re talking about Red Bird, exactly. And so Tracy Nolan, who’s the Program Director there has done an amazing, amazing job with her team of starting to mitigate this crisis. And they have built a wonderful water kiosk that’s in a centralized region where people can come and get… For 25 cents they can get 5 gallons of water. And the reason that they charge for this water is so that they can upkeep the water kiosk, which is basically a water dispenser, right? They’ve drilled down. They’ve capped it off. And they made it so that you can access it in this way.
What’s wonderful about the work they’ve done with that, as well as the kiosk that they’ve built around that water dispenser, also serves as a kind of hut or covering for the local farmers market to take place on the weekend.
Joe: Oh, wow. So they’re providing a place to sell food, and buy some, too.
Lorrie: Exactly. Also, they’ve also gone in and rehabbed the water systems in the schools now and retrofitted the pipes, filtered the water, and they have installed either the water dispensers now that you have in the airports or on a university campus…
Joe: …you can get a bottle or refill your bottle.
Lorrie: Yeah, you can fill your bottle and then it tells you, how much bottles you’ve saved from being in the landfill and all of that. Yeah, they’ve installed that in the school there, and they have been working in partnership with the local government to retrofit and rehab the septic system that’s there as well. So they’re doing a complete watershed cleanup in the Red Bird area.
Joe: Wow. That’s fantastic.
One of the things that I’ve been surprised to learn as I researched this for the story was that bottled water is not a good solution. Is that right?
Lorrie: Bottled water is not a good solution. It started like seeping in… Pardon the pun, but it was seeping in society. It was just like, this is what you did. Bottled water. And sure, it was absolutely convenient, especially for those of us who would commute or we’d be at school. Hey, I don’t have to get up and go outside to get a drink. But instead of getting a Nalgene bottle or something else. It was like, I must consume these bottles. Now these bottles are contributing to landfills.
And you consuming bottled water is still not taking care of the contaminated watershed. It’s still not giving the Native American people rights to their water. One of my favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela is this: “When you are righting an act of poverty, it is not charity. It is justice.” Bottled water is not addressing issues of justice.
Joe: Right. And for most of us the water that we consume from our tap is safe.
Lorrie: It’s absolutely safe. People will argue with you about this until the cows come home, so to speak. Brita water filters, Pur water filters. There are places in the United States where if you tested the tap water you would go, Ooh, there are more particulate matters per million…. That’s what we call, you know, parts per million-- PPM. It’s a fancy thing that we say. It’s a measure, how many particles of contaminants are in our water. And again, there are minimum base standards that are set. How much can be in our water? There are always going to be particulates in the water. There’s also going to be a level of chlorination depending on where you live. You can also see minerals in the water, right? Because where people are getting their water sources varies across the country.
Where I grew up in Eugene, Oregon we have some of like the sweetest, coldest, most delicious water in the world because it comes from the Cascade Range. It’s unpolluted. It’s wonderful. I crave the taste of that water. My water here in Atlanta tastes a bit different, but that’s because of the geographic region where I am. It’s probably a childhood thing, right? Like, it’s comfort water instead of comfort food. It’s comfort water, right.
Joe: So, I want to get down to concrete examples of what I can do in my house or in my daily living to help conserve water, to help work towards water justice. What are some things that I can do every day?
Lorrie: Well, the first thing I think of is simply start to become aware of your water usage. If you’re one of the people—and I am guilty of it, too—if you’re one of the people that lets the tap run while you’re brushing your teeth, just start trying to not do that in the morning, right? And try it again in the evening. When you’re filling up a pot with water to make your pasta or boil potatoes or whatever it is, think: do I really need that much? You can re-use your water. There are some way…. You can also do rainwater catchment stuff. These are some wonderful things that you can do. For example, if you are having a home garden, if you do rainwater catchment you can use that water to irrigate your garden.
Joe: So that rainwater catchment thing. I hear about that, but how do you actually do that? Is it just put a barrel at the end of your gutters downspout? Or….
Lorrie: That is an extremely simplified thing. So in its most simple form that’s exactly what happens. You can Google it. And there’s actually a system that you can get that will attach barrels to your gutter system. And they come with their own little pipes. They’re retrofitted. It’s super cool. And you can just fill that sucker up and go out there and use it. I highly recommend that, especially in the areas like where we both live, where we get a significant amount of rainfall.
Joe: Oh, and another thing that came to my mind when you spoke about brushing your teeth, and this is a simple one that I noticed for me, is shaving. I used to leave the water running while I was shaving. I began to learn to use less that way. Anything else in the house? What are some other things that you can think of?
Lorrie: Showering is a huge one, and bathing. Here’s an experiment people can try. And my son didn’t believe me. I told him that he was using more water in a shower than he was taking a bath. He said, That’s impossible. And I said, Really? How ‘bout this. Next time you’re in the bathtub if you’re still in a like shower/bathtub situation…. I know a lot of us just have shower stalls now. But if you’re still in one of those, you know, have your kid get in there and do the drain plug, and see how much water fills up by the time they’re out. I would pretty much bet you that it’s gonna be ready to overflow before they’re ready to get out.
Something else that people can do is to become an advocate. To simply become aware of the water issues that are around them and just simply become informed—to learn more.
You know, go on to a…just type in ‘clean water,’ and I guarantee you, you will get like billions of hits on Google. And start to become aware of the issues that are happening in your community. And one of the most powerful things that we can do is be advocates and use our voice on behalf of the people that don’t have a voice, who are marginalized.
This might sound trite, but something I shared with a girlfriend who asked me this a couple of months ago… you know, what can I do? And I’m like, Do you remember Erin Brockovich? And she’s like, Yeah, but, you know, she’s kind of hazy in there. I’m like, you know what? Go get a group of friends together. Go watch Erin Brockovich. Then tell me what you would do if that was happening in your community. What would you do? And begin to think about that. And then begin to advocate because you know what?
Critical mass does matter. Advocating at the county level, the state level, the federal level does make a difference. And connect with something that’s meaningful to you. If you feel connected to advocate for Native American population, give me a call. I have a list of communities that we’re working with that could use your advocacy, your voice, your dollars.
Joe: We’ll put links to connect to you on the website.
It just seems to me just paying attention you start to hear more and more about what’s happening around you with issues with water.
Lorrie: Right, simply becoming informed and aware, and then being really thoughtful about ways that we engage and ways that we help because sometimes inadvertently we can create more of a burden if we’re not careful. And I’ll give you an example of that.
The number one reason that girls drop out of school around the world is when they hit puberty and they start their first period. And in their school there is not an infrastructure in place to support them. The solution is not as simple as giving a young woman some pads and saying, here you go. In most places in the developing world it is taboo to touch your private areas. Then when you unpack that you have to ask yourself the questions of, does that girl even have underwear? Does she have access to soap? Does the school where she’s going actually have latrines? Is there a latrine that is for girls only? Does she have access to clean running water? Is there access to soap and bleach? And is there an area where if she starts her period at school where she can go and change? And then what if we have done all of these things, but we haven’t provided any kind of health education at school to help her understand the changes that are happening with her body?
All of these things do not exist in isolation. They are together. If I am a woman or a girl and I’m in an internally displaced camp or a refugee camp, and I am going out to source water for my family, I put myself at risk and I become increasingly vulnerable by going out to the river by myself, or if I’m going out there at night to relieve myself. I cannot tell you the statistics and the staggering numbers of women and girls who are sexually assaulted simply going out to use the bathroom or to go source water. It skyrockets for them. So there are taboos. There are cultural issues at play. And there are simple issues of access.
Joe: How can I get involved with you and the United Methodist Committee on Relief in working towards justice in those areas?
Lorrie: Well, I welcome questions and emails anytime from any of our constituents. Also, giving to our UMCOR Wash Advance. I know that sounds like such a, you know, it’s like, of course you work at UMCOR. You’re gonna say that, right? But no, I’m really serious because giving to our Wash Advance empowers us to be able to go out and work in these communities, work in these marginalized areas.
We joke with our boss, Dr. Ige, all the time about our tag line for the Global Health unit: We go where the road stops. So we go to the rural communities, the marginalized communities, the oppressed communities. If you’re out there and you’re in those groups, you’re our people. And that is what giving to The Advance does on the other side.
You know, a lot of times—like you and I were saying earlier, there’s a disconnect for people. I’m sitting in the pew. I’m learning about this, or reading about it on the website. What happens on the other side? This is work that is happening on the other side.
Joe: When we spoke another time, you also talked about how some of the technology and things that you have available can help communities when they find out they have water issues in their town.
Lorrie: Yes. Absolutely. So if you are a United Methodist and you find one of these issues going on in your town, you can contact your local conference office, whatever your annual conference is, and you can ask them to be in touch with us. And we can work with you to, number one, develop an advocacy plan and support you via technical support and capacity building in that way. Number two, in the instance of working with the Northern Cheyenne Nation, it was the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference who approached us and said, This issue is happening in our annual conference; what can we do?
Joe: And you guys are able to come in and offer assistance.
Lorrie: Exactly. So what we do is we come in and we will work with the community. In this case we’re working with Rocky Mountain Annual Conference and tribal leaders and the chief of the Northern Cheyenne people in Montana to develop a water system for them on the reservation land. And so that can be anything from irrigation to us retrofitting the plumbing that’s in the schools, helping them complete their community center so that there is a clean water source there that everyone can access. Yes.
Joe: I want to ask you the one question I ask every guest on Get Your Spirit in Shape, which is simply this: What practice would you recommend that helps you stay in touch with your faith journey, helps you stay in touch with God?
Lorrie: Learning to shut up and listen.
I am a huge fan of meditation. And I once heard somebody distill it as prayer is asking and talking to God; meditation is listening to God. Sometimes that meditation is me simply having a prayer time and then sitting and just listening and quieting my mind and opening my heart to receive whatever is out there that I need to hear or absorb. Another way I can do this is by doing something like taking a walk, what a friend of mine calls dynamic meditation. When I’m out there I’m praying and I’m talking to God. But I’m also like taking the time to be outside of the elements that I’m normally in. You know, I sit in an office most of the day. So getting outside and kinda breaking things up is very important for me.
Joe: I love ‘shut up and listen,’ just be quiet and let God….
Lorrie: It might sound harsh but that’s the bottom line because I can talk all day, especially if you get me talking about issues of water, issues of social justice. I talk, talk, talk, talk all the time. So for me what I have to do when I come home and I take a walk, I literally have to leave my cell phone on the counter so that I go out and do my walk.
Joe: Good practice.
Lorrie: I have to disconnect. And you don’t realize how addicted you become to your phone and checking the emails, especially when we’re involved in this kind of work. Everything seems like a fire. And you take it seriously and it’s like, Wow, there are people’s lives on the other side of what I’m doing. So we do take it seriously. But there’s also comes the time of—what one of my yoga teachers calls learning to drink as you pour. You cannot give from an empty cup. You must take time for yourself to restore and recharge.
Joe: I know we’ve barely scratched the surface here, but we’re running out of time. So I just want to say, thank you. Thank you so much for your passion and all of the things that you’re sharing with us and for the ministry that you do. Thanks, Lorrie, for your time today.
Lorrie: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much, Joe.
In the studio
Joe: That was Lorrie King of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Global Health. Lorrie is the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), the Food Security and the Livelihoods Programs Manager for UMCOR. You can learn more about Lorrie and her work by visiting UMC.org/podcasts, and finding episode 20 of Get Your Spirit in Shape. We have links on that site for the UMCOR site, links to the United Methodist Women resource website on water conservation and the story I wrote for UMC.org for which I first interviewed Lorrie. There’s also a link to my email address. Please use it. I love hearing from you.
Now before I go I want to share with you a programming note and something I’m really excited about. Beginning in September Get Your Spirit in Shape is gonna add a second episode each month specifically for the purpose of meeting a bishop. One of the real joys of my job has been getting to meet our bishops. They’re some of the warmest, most faithful people I’ve met. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I want to share it with you. So I’m going to be chatting with a bishop each month—not so much about their job, but about them—their faith journeys, what they like to do and how they keep their spirits in shape. Look for the first one at the beginning of September.
Well, that’s it for this episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape. I’ll be back soon with more tips to keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.