Clean Water for a Healthy World (World Water Day 2010)

World Water Day 2010
A post by Anne JeffersonMore than one billion people (1 in 6) do not have access to adequate clean fresh water – which is defined as just 20 to 50 liters per day. In contrast, the average American can use in excess of 400 liters per day indoors. More than 2.5 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation facilities. Without sanitation, human and animal wastes reach drinking water supplies and illness proliferate. Diarrhea, caused by water-born pathogens, is the leading cause of illness and death in the world. And most of its victims are children under 5 years old.
Today is World Water Day, an annual recognition of the importance of freshwater and an opportunity for focusing attention on advocating for its sustainable management. World Water Day is organized by the UN Environmental Program. Each year has a particular theme, and in 2010 the theme is “Clean Water for a Healthy World.”

The all-around excellent Pulitzer Gateway “Downstream”is focused on water conflict and cooperation, water and economics, water and health, and water and climate. Of particular relevance for this World Water Day is the section on water and health, where I found the video and written account of women in Kakuma daily digging a dry riverbed for water because they couldn’t afford the 5 cents per jerry can fee for the clean, pumped water supplied by aid organizations and the local government.
(One thing you might notice if you watch some of these videos is that it is women and girls who are disproportionately affected by lack of access to clean water. Women are the ones who have to walk miles to fill jugs with water and girls drop out of school in order to do so. Improving access to water would give these women and girls additional opportunities to contribute to their own and their families’ economic well-being.)
In 2000, the UN set out its Millenium Development Goals, one of which is “By 2015, reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.” With five years to go, we’re making some progress toward the drinking water goal (only 900 million more people to go) but the number of people without access to adequate sanitation is actually increasing. There are many organizations working to install wells and establish clean water supplies. There are also organizations working to develop and distribute affordable water purification technologies, some even using entrepreneurial solutions. Just as importantly, there are groups working to improve sanitation conditions. We need to break the taboo on sanitation and recognize it to be a necessary ingredient to preserving clean water resources. Unfortunately, all of these well-meaning organizations face significant limitations because of cost, political instability, cultural taboos, hydrogeology, and climate.
No matter how much scientific geek-love I may have for streams and groundwater, mostly I live a water-rich life and can take water for granted. Yet, in other parts of the world, access to clean water is literally a matter of life or death. I’m glad for this year’s reminder of how fortunate I am, how far the world needs to go to meet basic human needs, and how many of the solutions are within our grasp, if concerted, adequately-funded efforts are made. Simply put, global health depends on access to adequate clean water and sanitation. It’s time to move water higher on our collective to-do list.

Categories: by Anne, hydrology

Comments (3)

  1. Anne — I have National Geographic magazines from 1967 that say we need to move water higher on our “collective to do list.” That was 43 years ago. And it mentioned all the things on your “to do” list.
    I agree with you. It’s amazing we can build a gold mine or clearcut 10,000 acres of the Amazon in a year or build an International Space Station but … oh gee … we completely forget about those poor girls hauling water for 5 miles. And oops! We just destroyed all their water with pollution from an oil well. Oh well. Sucks to be them. Their needs are standing in the way of science and progress.
    As Pogo said, We have met the enemy and he is us. This problem has not been abated in 43 years. It has not been abated because we are not looking at why there is a problem in the first place. People in Africa, for example, have had potable water for 100,000 years. Why now, suddenly, has this water become non-potable in the last 50 years?
    Who did it?

  2. It amazing how much we take the everyday item like clean water and trialize it. Its kind of sad that Americans lead the way in wasteful usage. I think a change in attitude needs to occur in the youngest generation so they grow up respecting what we have.

  3. akashni says:

    pliz can put some more important message on this topic so that it is esay 4 us 2 write an essay on it