Living water scarcity malawi

Published on June 27th, 2014 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

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Living Global Water Scarcity: the Four Liter Challenge

people living with water scarcity in malawi

How much water do you think you use every day? Not just drink… but use for cooking, bathing, and cleaning? 10 gallons? 50? How about 145 gallons (or 550 liters) every day? That’s the American average per person… unfortunately, as I learned at this week’s Further with Ford conference, that’s yet another area in which we in the US indulge ourselves well beyond the rest of the world. Global water scarcity limits some of the world’s poorest people to a mere 4 liters – or just a smidge over 1 gallon – a day.

That’s right: 4 litres for all of the things mentioned above. No long hot showers, no leaving the water on while brushing your teeth, no taking a few sips and then dumping the rest: that water is very precious for about 800 million people worldwide. Could you do this: live on just four liters a day? Not just a small fraction of what we normally consume, but even a mere 10-12% of the water needed to live at minimal standards of health and wellness?

George McGraw, the founder of DIGDEEP, a non-profit focused on the global water crisis, offered those of us at the “Sustainability Blues” session an opportunity to commit to such a water-scarce lifestyle… for just a few days. See, DIGDEEP hosts the 4 Liter Challenge, an event in October in which those of us who live with vast water wealth commit to “trying on” water poverty for just a few days. The concept: experiencing water scarcity at this level will make it real for us. Here’s a video overview created by the organization:

Yes, this is also an event for fundraising for DIGDEEP; last year’s first 4 Liter Challenge not only got 600 people to try out water poverty for 2-5 days, but also netted over $17,000 for the organization’s efforts to bring fresh water to parts of the world lacking it (including places here in the US – not every American gets their own 55o liters every day).

Interested in participating? The next challenge is already taking volunteers (including a few people that raised their hand during George’s presentation on Wednesday); you can find out more at the event’s web site.

Could you do it? Will you? I’m still deciding myself… let us know what you think.

Please note: Ford paid all of my travel and lodging expenses for the Further with Ford event.

Image credit: Lars Plougmann at Wikimedia Commons cc



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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at



  • David @ NCP

    Hi. Thanks for your efforts to educate us about our consumption patterns relative to the world. That’s a big part of our work at New Community Project as well. I did note that your figure on per cap daily water consumption in the US seemed a little high. I believe it’s around 100 gallons per day (“There is huge variation in residential water
    use among the states. Residential per-capita water use ranges from 54
    gallons per day in Maine to 190 gallons in Nevada, with a national
    average of 98 gallons, a figure mostly unchanged from a dozen years ago,
    according to the USGS.” http://yubanet.com/usa/Per-Capita-Water-Use-in-the-U-S-Drops.php#.U67P4LG8TEg) Of course it’s much more if you count all withdrawals (ag, energy, manufacturing, etc)–around 1383 gallons per-person per-day–according to this same source.

    Keep up the good work!

    • http://sustainablog.org/ Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

      Thanks for chiming in, David! I took my figure from George’s presentation at the conference, and the 4 Liter Challenge website (which they present in liters: 550/day): https://4liters.org/teach/index.php?pg=aboutus

      • David @ NCP

        Yes, there are lots of stats floating around about everything–so hard to choose. This got me thinking of my own normal household water use. Recently I’ve moved to AZ–where people probably shouldn’t be living. Consequently, every time I use water, it makes me think of the Colorado River and the damage our water use does to that river and its downstream ecosystem–as this is where a lot of ours comes from. Doing the calculations, I think I’m at about 8 gallons a day for bathing, washing dishes, flushing, drinking, ice for my tea–not including drip irrigation of our garden in the back yard. -for what it’s worth

        • http://sustainablog.org/ Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

          That’s pretty impressive! And I know where you’re coming from: I lived most of the 90s in Las Vegas… another place where that many people probably shouldn’t live…

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