A version of this article, by Jennifer Swann, a culture and lifestyle reporter covering the intersection of pop culture and social justice, originally appeared on TakePart.
To the thousands of European and American tourists who flock to it on vacation, the village of Matemwe Beach looks like a tropical paradise: white sandy beaches, warm turquoise ocean, and plenty of palm trees. Luxury hotels, day spas, and fine restaurants dot the coast on the island of Zanzibar, part of Tanzania, where visitors partake in water sports such snorkeling and sailing.
The new documentary Running Water depicts the stark contrast between how natives and tourists experience life in the same village amid a major water shortage afflicting Zanzibar. The 22-minute film, created by high school students in Matemwe, begins with images of the secluded beaches and those who have the privilege to enjoy them. A painfully long scene shows a tourist in a hotel bathroom running the water gratuitously while washing his face.
“When Julius, a visitor, wakes up, he expects the water to run, and it does,” reads a titles card. What Julius doesn’t know is that less than two miles away, “there’s a hill leading to another world, where pipes of the past have no running water and lead to dry taps, dry wells, and hardened tears.”
A local woman in a small village explains that she hasn’t had access to running water in at least five years. “The wells have no water. None at all,” she says in Swahili, the language of East Africa, which is translated into English subtitles. “Men carry water, but women do most of the work.” Women and children spend up to seven hours a day collecting water from wells—many of which are filled with salt water, thanks to rising sea levels—in remote areas of Tanzania. As a result, the Zanzibar woman says, “the women have no time to study.”
The shortage of clean water contributes to an ongoing health crisis in Tanzania, where about 22.3 million people—nearly half the country’s population—lack access to clean water, according to estimates by the global advocacy organization Water Aid, and about twice as many don’t have access to adequate sanitation. Residents in the region rely primarily on seasonal rainwater stored in aquifers, but an increase in international tourism, though it supports thousands of jobs and contributes heavily to the economy, has put an additional strain on sustainable water use.
So, Why Should You Care? International aid organizations have been working to improve access to water in developing countries, but efforts have consistently fallen short in Tanzania. In 2010, the U.N. met its 2015 Millennium Development Goal of cutting by half the proportion of the world population lacking access to safe drinking water. But Tanzania is not on track to achieve that goal. Just 6 percent of the country’s population has gained access to safe drinking water since 2000, according to a 2014 UNICEF report. More than 40 percent of the people around the world who lack access to drinking water live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Running Water shows how that lack of access affects the people in one village in sub-Saharan Africa. The teenagers in the Matemwe English Speaking Students Cinema Club produced it as part of a series of short films highlighting challenges faced by the residents of Matemwe Beach. Their 2014 film exploring how language barriers hamper educational attainment won first place at England’s EYE Want Change Film Festival.