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To Whom Much is Given
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To Whom Much is Given

According to the World Health Organization, 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Furthermore, 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation. But, according to Dr. Judy Santmire, those numbers are probably low. “They underestimate the real picture. Keep in mind that the United Nations’ standard for ‘adequate sanitation’ is a lined latrine pit. Is that what comes to mind when you think of sanitation?”

Santmire has been involved with water and sanitation issues for many years. With a background in health care, she entered graduate school with the thought of studying aquatic ecology, and continued into her doctoral program. “My application letter for the Ph.D. program expressed my interest in international water quality programs,” she recalled.

In her three years as an assistant professor of biology at Notre Dame College, Santmire has been blessed with a kindred spirit in Sr. Alice Dugar ’67, the manager of the College’s science laboratories. Dugar also has a long standing interest in the ecological aspects of water, and the human rights aspects issues related to water accessibility. She was involved in drafting the Sisters of Notre Dame’s corporate stance on water accountability in 2004. “We made a ten year commitment that followed the Water for Life program with the United Nations,” said Dugar.

Through Dugar’s connections, Santmire was able to participate in a teachers’ conference held at the United Nations in New York City during February 2006. The conference, titled “The Global Challenges of Water,” changed the way Santmire looked at water issues. “I was amazed; water really is a gender issue. I heard first-hand stories of girls who are unable to get an education because they spend six hours a day walking to a distant water source to get water for their families. There are stories of girls getting raped and women facing physical harm just to get water.”

Santmire returned to the classroom with a renewed interest in getting her students engaged in the importance of water issues. She and Sr. Alice encourage students to be responsible with their water use. One of the small ways they are bringing about change is asking students to use tap water instead of bottled water. “Bottled water can cost you up to 1,000 times more than tap water,” claimed Dugar. “I understand that bottles are a convenience, but purchasing bottled water promotes privatization of water by large corporations. Once we lose water as a basic right, and it becomes a commodity for profit, it is very difficult to get it back.”

“There is a biblical principle, ‘to whom much is given, much is required,’” said Santmire. “When I look at a globe, I live in the greatest abundance of freshwater on the planet. We have a divine appointment to use this resource in a cautious, conservative and responsible manner.”