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US Restaurant Patrons Pay $1 for Normally-Free Tap Water

UNICEF project aims to bring clean water to children worldwide

Thousands of restaurants across the US are participating in the UNICEF Tap Project during World Water Week 2011 (March 20-26).
Thousands of restaurants across the US are participating in the UNICEF Tap Project during World Water Week 2011 (March 20-26).

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Faiza Elmasry

Most restaurants in the United States offer their customers a glass of tap water at no charge with their meal, but this week many restaurants are asking diners to pay a dollar, or more , for a glass of water. Placards on their tables explain that this small amount helps bring clean water to children around the world. It’s called the UNICEF Tap Project.

The Tap Project has a simple goal.

"UNICEF’s Tap Project is really all about bringing attention to the fact that over 900 million people around the globe do not have access to good, clean, healthy drinking water," says Caryl Stern, who heads the US Fund for UNICEF. She adds that water-borne illness is the second-highest cause of preventable childhood death in the world.

"Each and every day approximately 4,100 children die just because they don’t have that access - 4,100 every single day."

The public service campaign encourages people to help change that statistic with a simple, affordable action: paying a dollar to get a glass of tap water at a restaurant.

"One dollar buys enough good, clean water for a child for 40 days," Stern says.

The tap project has expanded since it began five years ago with 300 restaurants in New York City. This year, Stern says, about 3,000 restaurants across the country are participating in the campaign.

Donating $1 for tap water that is normally free helps UNICEF provide lifesaving water and sanitation to kids around the world.
Donating $1 for tap water that is normally free helps UNICEF provide lifesaving water and sanitation to kids around the world.

"We raised about $2.5 million over the last five years of this campaign," says Stern. "Last year, we raised over $1 million for the first time. This year we’re hoping to top that."

Stern credits the continued success of the campaign to an army of volunteers who support the tap project and run fundraisers in their communities.

"In some communities, they are going just out to the restaurants making sure people support those restaurants," she says. "I’ve got a young girl who called me a couple of weeks ago who got involved. She went to see her school principal. She is a middle schooler. They have the entire school involved in what they call a water walk. The kids are going to carry a gallon of water all day. For every hour they carry it, they've got someone sponsoring that hour and they are collecting and raising money that way."

For the first time, the US Fund for UNICEF is also running a sweepstakes called "Celebrity Tap."

"We have UNICEF ambassador Selena Gomez along with Adrian Grenier, Dwight Howard from the NBA, singer Rihanna, country singer Taylor Swift and comedian Robin Williams. Each of them has filled a bottle with their own tap water from home and you can enter this sweepstakes to win one of those bottles," Stern says.

All the money raised by the tap project funds UNICEF's much-needed drinking water and sanitation projects around the world.

"In some cases we’re tanking water in," says Stern. "In some, we’re digging a well or a borehole. In others, we’re purifying a water source that’s already there. Even more, we’re educating people about what they need to know in order to assure that the water they are drinking is good, clean, healthy safe water. (We are in) 157 countries around the globe. And, particularly this year, we’re in Togo, the Central African Republic and Vietnam."

Providing clean drinking water is the first step towards creating a better life for people in these countries.

"Often times when there is not enough water, it not only has health implications, it has other life implications because the family will keep children home from school because someone has to walk for several hours to the river to get water to sustain life. So water not only improves health, it improves the opportunity for children to interrupt that cycle of poverty."

The UNICEF Tap Project is promoting its efforts with a simple motto: when you take water, give water. Stern hopes that, by participating in the project, more Americans will realize that what they often take for granted is a precious and scarce resource in many other parts of the world.  

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