First Person

This World Water Day, every action counts

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Ubah Hassan is a model and activist, and the President and Co-founder of Maji Umbrellas. Ubah has also served as a spokesperson for FEED projects and recently became a Sisters on the Planet Ambassador for Oxfam America.

As a model, I promote luxury goods—handbags, shoes, and couture clothing. But as an activist, social entrepreneur, and native of Somalia, I know what real luxury is: access to clean water.

Since the July 2011 declaration of famine in Somalia by the United Nations, I have been thinking a lot about water and food shortages in the Horn of Africa. I recently partnered with Oxfam America and created Maji Umbrellas to raise awareness about the crisis in East Africa and money for the 13 million people affected by the drought and famine. Maji will donate a portion of each umbrella purchase to Oxfam America’s relief work in East Africa, enough to provide a day’s supply of clean water to 20 people.

One in eight people has inadequate access to water supplies. And that lack of clean water claims more lives each year than all forms of violence on the planet combined.

The numbers are shocking. And the reality’s even worse.

I know firsthand what it’s like to go thirsty. I was born in Somalia and, at the age of seven, fled this war-torn country to Kenya with my brother and father. There were many days in Kenya when my family, neighbors, and I went with very little water. Sometimes the water pipe in my town would break or the water would get contaminated. When that happened, we’d travel for hours to the next village to get water. And once we got there, we had to wait for hours while others who arrived before us filled their canteens. On average, women in sub-Saharan Africa spend 40 billion hours each year collecting water – equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce in France.

That’s a tremendous amount of human resources and energy spent just trying to get water to live—imagine what women could do with those hours if they had better access to water—continue their education, start a business, run for office, support their community, even change the world.

UN studies indicate a clear link between poverty and access to water: those people who lack adequate water resources are far more likely to be poor, and those who are poor are far more likely to lack adequate water resources. Today, infrastructure development projects such as dams and mines are diverting essential water resources from farmers and fishers, threatening their lives and livelihoods, and plunging them into poverty.

Today is World Water Day. Challenge yourself (and others) to imagine how you would feel if you couldn’t relieve your thirst. Imagine if you did not have access to enough water to bathe, cook, or wash your clothes.

We can choose to make a difference. We can educate a friend about what is happening in the Horn of Africa. We can buy an umbrella for a loved one from Maji Umbrellas.

Mother Teresa once said “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Please be that missing drop and support us so we can make sure our friends in East Africa and around the world have access to clean water. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+