United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6: CLEAN WATER & SANITATION

Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

[Lisa Toner, Concordia International School, Shanghai, China]

Fresh water is necessary for the survival of all living organisms on earth. It is water that carries nutrients to our cells, water that flushes out toxic wastes from our bodies and water that helps us to regulate our temperatures. Human beings are made up of about 60% water and we cannot survive for more than 2 days without it. Yet, how often do we take clean water and a working toilet for granted?

Currently over 40% of the world’s population (nearly 2.2 billion people) do not have access to clean safe water and COVID 19 has served only to highlight how many people are unable to wash their hands properly. 4.2 billion people do not have access to properly managed sanitation facilities and shockingly, over 1000 children per day die from preventable water and sanitation related diseases. 

This post highlights some of the children’s books that we can use to help educate our young people on the importance of clean water for all.

We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (2020) / Indigenous American creators

We come from water,’ we are told in this year’s American Library Association’s Caldecott (picture book) winner — We are Water Protectors — written in beautiful lyrical text by Carole Lindstrom (Anishinabe/Métis and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Indians) and impressively illustrated in a watery palette by Michaela Goade (from the Raven moiety and Kiks.ádi Clan from Sitka, Alaska).  It is the first time women of Indigenous descent have won the award. 

Water nourishes us,’ we are told by the young Indigenous narrator. She has learned from her grandmother how precious water is and she feels ‘the river’s rhythm run through my veins’. But this precious natural resource is being abused and we watch in horror as the ‘black snake’ of the North Dakota Access pipeline threatens to contaminate the water and destroy the people’s homeland. The stark message of this book is that globalisation and corporate greed are not merely problems for the Indigenous peoples but an issue for all humanity.

This moving story does carry with it a message of hope. It is a call to action, and you can find many downloadable resources here, including a pledge form.

Water’s Children: celebrating the resource that unites us all by Angele Delaunois, illustrated by Gérard Frischeteau (2017) / Canada / Translated from French by Erin Woods

Twelve children from all over the world unite in their message that ‘Water is Life’ in this book, telling us what water means to them, from snowflakes to mint tea. Water is critical in their lives even when it is scarce in the desert or overwhelming when a dam bursts. In clever watermarks on each page with the phrase ‘Water is life’ translated into the native language of the narrator there is a unifying theme understandable even by younger readers.

The Water Princess by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter Reynolds (2016) / USA / Set in Burkino Faso / Based on memories of a woman who grew up in Burkino Faso

How would you feel if you had to walk for miles and miles to find clean water and then how heavy it is to carry it back home? In many rural African villages this task falls to the women. In this picture book, Princess Gie Gie accompanies her mother on her daily journeys that start before dawn, returning at dusk simply to bring the vital life-giving water to her village. Gie Gie has many questions about why they have no water, and her hope is that she can bring water to nourish her ‘kingdom’.

Based on the memories of supermodel Georgie Badiel’s childhood, this evocative tale has a strong and simple message for all. Watch this video to see and hear her talk about how water shapes the lives of women and children in Burkino Faso.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (2010) / USA / Novel, based on Salva Dut’s story
Nya’s Long Walk: A step at a time by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Brian Pinckney (2019) / USA / Story set in South Sudan
Just Add Water by Robin Hill and Charles O. Hall, illustrated by Sherry Stasse Wright / USA / Based on Salva Dut’s autobiography

Salva Dut was one of the ‘lost boys’ of the Sudan and now heads a charity dedicated to providing clean, safe water as well as improvements in hygiene and sanitation practices in South Sudan. The organization’s website — Water for South Sudan — includes information about each of these books and resources for educators to support teaching SDG #6.

A Long Walk to Water tells two stories — one about a girl called Nya in 2008, who makes two trips a day to get water from the nearest pond, each round trip taking 4 hours, and the other about a boy named Salva, part of the ‘lost boys’ following the Sudanese war of 1985 who are searching for their families and safety. Salva eventually returns from America to help build a well in his village, thus changing Nya’s life forever.  These dual narratives are powerful and harrowing, telling of survival and resilience in times of extreme hardship, and are suitable for Grade 6 and upwards.

A Thirst for Home: A story of water across the world by Christine Ieronimo, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (2014) / USA / Set in Ethiopia / Author is mother of adopted Ethiopian daughter

This picture book for older readers deals with the topic of drought in Ethiopia; the subsequent hunger, poverty and desperation that follows and the difficult decision of a mother to give up her daughter for adoption in the hope that she will go to a country with more water. ‘Tears, rain, puddles’, water is the theme running through this emotional story of sacrifice and growing up in a strange land.

In 2008 the author traveled to Ethiopia to adopt a little girl. A day after their return to the USA, she found her daughter drinking from a puddle in their driveway — which inspired her to write this book.

Water by Subhash Vyam (2017) / India

The beautiful and quirky artwork in this picture book is as powerful as the story itself. The spreads vividly depict the interconnectedness between humans and nature. Set in a small rural village in Central India whose water supply is under threat from the greedy selfish and rich city dwellers, this story blends its narrative around a traditional Gond fable where nature punishes the human sisters for breaking their bargain. ‘We need nature… to survive, but she doesn’t really need us’ is a sombre reminder to us all.

I Need to Pee, by Nehu Singh, illustrated by Meenal Singh and Erik Egerup (2018) / India

This delightful picture book takes a fun look at a serious topic, access to toilets, especially when traveling or out in public.  Young children love all things pee and poop related and will laugh at Rahi’s constant desire to go whether it is on a stinky train or in a swanky hotel.  Rahi is clear about her rights though and this book has an important message for adults and children alike.  

Access to good sanitation is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

(Speaking of which, if you don’t know it already, seek out Taro Gomi’s Everyone Poops (1981 / Japan / translated by Amanda Meyer Stinchecum), for very young children.)

The Adventures of Buland Babu: A Sludge Story by CDD Society (2017) / India / Available in English and Kannada

Every country needs proper systems to deal with human waste. The CDD Society, a non-profit Indian organization, dedicated to innovating, demonstrating and disseminating “decentralized nature-based solutions for the conservation, collection, treatment and reuse of water resources and management of sanitation facilities,” commissioned a comic book to show the problems cities and towns face in keeping human “sh*t” out of lakes and ground water.

The comic is available as a free download — from the Publications page of the Consortium for DEWATS (Decentralised Wastewater Treatement Systems) Dissemination Society (CDD Society) — in either English or Kannada.

Don’t forget every November 19th is World Toilet Day — and in 2020 the United Nations developed an informational toolkit, available as a free download in ArabicEnglishFrenchRussian, Spanish and Chinese.

Bill Gates talks “toilets” in this 2-minute video (2018), and his foundation is supporting initiatives like the “tiger toilets” in India.

Boondi’s Story: Water by Anushka Kalro, Rajasee Ray, Sankhalina Nath, and Shubhangi Goel (2012) / India / Available in English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, and Bengali

“Playful Boondi is a little drop of water who rolls and tumbles in the river. One hot day he feels himself being lifted up, up, up in the sky into a big, heavy cloud. What now?” [book blurb]

All I Want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke, illustrated by Megan Forward (2016) / Australia / Dedicated to Australian Farmers

Water shortages are not restricted to third world nations, even a rich country can experience drought. This story tells of a little girl whose only Christmas wish is for the life-giving rain that will help to save her family and her community in the Australian outback.

The simple text and evocative illustrations are a great antidote to the commercialism of Christmas and a spring-board for discussions about the importance of rain, where food comes from, and climate change.

The Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta (2012) / Finland / Written simultaneously in Finnish and English by the author

This young adult dystopia is set in a future where, due to climate change, fresh water is scarce and rationed.

“Global warming has changed the world’s geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria’s father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.” [book blurb]

Another dystopian Young Adult novel that imagines water as a thing of the past is Dry (USA, 2018) by award-winning author Neal Shusterman, who powerfully describes how society could break down when there is a water shortage. In his story, the suburban streets of southern California become a war zone during an extreme drought and there is disease, death, mutilation and chaos. A stark warning of what might happen on our doorsteps if the water runs out.

Lisa Toner has been a librarian working in Education for 35 years. She is currently the Early Childhood and Elementary School Librarian at Concordia International School, Shanghai. Before that she worked as the Director of Library Services for Shrewsbury International School , Bangkok. And before that she spent 20 years as an academic librarian at the University of Cumbria in the U.K.  (teaching the BIG kids!) An author in her own right of over 40 books for children Lisa is passionate about inspiring children to read for pleasure.  (Twitter handle: @LisaToner4)

Note: all the books highlighted during this month of SDGs can be found on this GLLI Goodreads shelf.

What are your favorite books for SDG Goal 6: Clean Water & Sanitation? Please share them in the comments. Let’s make this a conversation and work on the goal together.

3 thoughts on “United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6: CLEAN WATER & SANITATION

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