The Global Water Crisis: Why Water?

by Alexandra Reese on February 20, 2014

Oxfam International on flickr

Oxfam International on flickr

“Water is critical for sustainable development, including environmental integrity and the alleviation of poverty and hunger, and is indispensable for human health and well-being.”a statement from the United Nations General Assembly, “Water for Life”

Living in the affluent city of Boston where clean water is abundant, we take for granted that water will flow from our sink or our shower at the turn of a knob. We waste gallons of water at a time as we wash our dishes or our cars, take long warm showers, or water our lawns during the dry months of the summer. But this is not the norm in many parts of our world.

Water is a basic necessity for life and it plays a vital role in a person’s well-being. However, nearly 1 billion people are living without clean drinking water around the world, especially in areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. The quality of water, whether it is being used for drinking, cooking, food production, or recreational purposes, is a strong determinant to overall health. I believe that inadequate water supply, sanitation, and hygiene are the most debilitating and dehumanizing forms of environmental health factors our world is facing today.

On the most direct level, water can be the vehicle for the transmission of a variety of diseases and infections either by ingestion or recreational exposure, putting billions of people at risk for diarrhea, dehydration, and even death.  Diarrheal diseases alone cause about 4.1 % of the total DALY global burden of disease and are responsible for about 1.8 million deaths every year.

Water can also indirectly affect economies and communities. The duty of collecting water from outdoor sources often falls on girls and women. Because water sources are scarce in many parts of Africa and Asia, women and children are forced to walk many miles to collect water. This time that is spent walking considerably reduces the time they could be spending on other activities such as childcare, education, and economic growth. Fetching water also poses as a danger to both women and children’s health and safety, making them vulnerable to disease or attack.

According to the WHO 3.6% of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving factors such as water supply, sanitation, or hygiene. Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.

Lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation is most often paralleled with poverty. UNESCO found that almost two out of three people lacking access to safe drinking water survive on less than $2 a day and one out of three on less than $1 a day. This problem is a threat to human safety and overall public health and it plays a significant role in the limitations that arise when striving to provide clean water to populations around the world.

But the water crisis is solvable. There are solutions available and many charities dedicated to this cause. Some of the solutions are innovative, like providing water filtration systems or educating villages on ways to purify their water. Others are more basic methods like supplying a village with water wells. However, machinery and tools alone will not solve the water crisis. Along with these methods of providing clean water, proper hygiene and sanitation techniques must also be put into place to ensure the water remains free from disease.

The cost of implementing these changes is minimal in comparison to the burden of disease and the need for oral rehydration as well as the cost per DALY that would be prevented. Additionally, the WHO estimates that every dollar spent on proper sanitation brings a return of $5.50 by keeping people healthy and productive, and keeping children in school.

The world is changing in ways that seemed unimaginable a century ago.  Urbanization and rapid population growth have had an effect on how people live their lives. For the first time in history, more people are living in cities than in rural areas, meaning that poverty that was previously dispersed in rural areas is now concentrated in city slums. With an increasing population comes an enormous pressure on resources, especially water. With this population boom, water withdrawals have tripled over the last fifty years. It is estimated that by 2025, half of the world population will be living in water stressed areas due to lack of resources. Clean water can have a significant impact on the burden of disease worldwide, but only with education, awareness, proper hygienic practices, and funding. We should all work together to eradicate this water crisis.

 

http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/SC/pdf/WWDR3_Facts_and_Figures.pdf

http://www.un.org/ga/president/63/issues/waterforlife.shtml

http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/2013/water_quality_strategy.pdf?ua=1

http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/diseases/burden/en/index.html


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