According to the World Health Organization, the shortage of sanitary drinking water is one of the leading causes of disease and death in the world today. Children are especially hard hit by the lack of this staple for survival. What are the dimensions of the problem and what is being done to help?
How Serious is the Problem?
Ten heavily populated countries in Asia and Africa bear most of the global burden of lack of safe drinking water. China, India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Kenya, and Pakistan collectively are home to almost 500 million people without access to clean water.
Imagine … Nearly half a billion human beings lack access to a basic human need – water that is safe to drink. Every year close to three and a half million of these people will die from a diarrheal water-related illness. Five hundred thousand will be children. In other words, 1,400 children are killed every day for lack of clean drinking water, a child mortality rate higher than that of HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.
What Are the Results of Unclean Drinking Water?
Cholera is a word from the history books for most residents of developed countries. But in the Third World, this acute bacterial infestation of the small intestine is an everyday reality, caused by contamination of the drinking water supply and poor hygiene. Left untreated, the severe diarrhea and vomiting that are characteristic of cholera can quickly lead to debilitating dehydration and death. Over 100,000 deaths result from cholera annually, making it mandatory to report this plague-like disease to local WHO authorities.
Typhoid is a different type of bacterial infestation also commonly found in underdeveloped nations, once again resulting from unsafe drinking water and inadequate hygiene. Although its mortality rate is lower than that of cholera (12 to 30 percent as opposed to 50 percent), the actual number of deaths is higher – more than 200,000 per year.
Numerous other diseases, such amoebic dysentery, are either caused or exacerbated by the lack of fresh water. These tend to be problems of the Third World, where poverty limits access to adequate sanitation systems and medical treatment. To illustrate this point, the last outbreak of cholera in the US was in New York from 1910-1911. Since then, New York plumbing has improved a great deal and vaccination has become widespread.
The health crisis caused by unsafe drinking water is a major concern of charitable organizations such as UNICEF. There are also several relatively new foundations like the Water Project and Water.org dedicated to the sole purpose of working with developing countries to provide universal access to a supply of healthy water.
So far, a number of solutions have materialized. These include hands-on projects, such as assistance in water purification; setting up private, sanitary latrines for schools; or digging efficient wells and managing them sustainably to ensure that they are not used to the point of exhaustion. Education is equally important, for example teaching people to help prevent cholera by the simple, low cost method of filtering their water through a folded sari or other cloth.
One of the most innovative solutions is sponsored by Sarvajal, an Indian social enterprise. It began a pilot project at the end of 2013, in a New Delhi neighborhood, installing 15 ATMs. Rather than cash, these solar powered machines distribute an even more precious substance – purified water.
By Laura Firszt, Networx.