In our ever changing and evolving world, improvements in living conditions are essential. Sanitation is our first line of defense against communicable diseases and epidemics of infectious diseases such as influenza, typhoid, cholera, and more.
And while developed nations tend to have outstanding methods of sanitation and good hygiene practices, developing nations still lose millions of lives every year because of poor or non-existent sanitation systems, according to the World Bank (2017).
But knowing generally about the problem doesn’t really help you understand just how bad the situation really is. In order to move toward change, a clear-eyed view of the problem is essential.
Here’s what you really need to know.
The Stark Lack of Basic Sanitation Around The World
Modern sanitation facilities are vital to public health. And while access to sanitary facilities has increased dramatically in the past twenty years, nearly 2.3 billion people still don’t have toilets or access to upgraded latrines.
Thankfully, the General Assembly of UN declared access to safe drinking water and modern sanitation as a human right in 2010. International efforts to help provide safe and accessible drinking water and sanitation are underway.
But, in spite of the progress, the 2015 target to cut the proportion of the population without access to improved sanitation facilities in half missed by nearly 700 million people.
There are still hundreds of thousands of people dying each year from diseases directly related to their lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation.
The one element that perpetuates a vicious cycle of disease and poverty is open defecation.
In places where open defecation is widespread, the number of deaths of children under 5 years old are as high as the levels of malnutrition and poverty.
Access to clean water is one of the keys to defeating the deaths of millions around the globe.
The State of Water Sanitation Worldwide
Many humanitarian organizations are supporting initiatives to improve water sanitation, with the Global Water Strategy specifically designed to address the issue.
According to USAID, the objectives are long-term and short-term:
1. Promote sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, and
the adoption of key hygiene behaviors
2. Encourage the sound management and protection of freshwater resources
3. Strengthen water sector governance, financing, and institutions
Thanks to USAID’s support, 37.3 million people were granted access to improved water supplies, and 24.1 million people were granted access to modernized sanitation facilities between 2008-2016.
Additionally, in 2016, 3.1 million people were granted sustainable access to cleaner water services, and 3 million people were provided access to upgraded sanitation facilities. USAID has invested more than $441.5 million to improving water and sanitation efforts in 47 countries.
Clean water and improved sanitation are just two steps in improving the overall public health around the world.
The Lack of Good Hygiene Practices
Access to clean water, modern toilets and good hygiene practices are absolutely necessary for the development and safety of children. If they don’t have these basic needs, millions of children’s lives are at risk.
Tragically, over 800 children under the age of five die every day from preventable diseases; it is their lack of access to proper water, sanitation, and good hygiene that contribute to these deaths.
It is critical that those in developing countries are educated on proper hygiene to help prevent these daily deaths.
The Link Between Poverty and Health
While it is great that we in developing countries have modernized appliances and access to cleaning supplies, people in poverty-stricken areas are not so fortunate.
Poverty and poor health worldwide are inextricably linked. Poverty is both a cause and an effect of poor health. Millions of the poorest and most vulnerable among us are killed or weakened each year by infectious and tropical diseases.
Economic, social and political structures that perpetuate poverty and discrimination must be changed significantly if poverty and poor health are to be addressed aggressively. Marginalized groups are deprived of the information, access, and money they need to prevent and treat disease.
For example, the cost of getting to a health care facility, the doctors’ fees, and a course of drugs can be economically devastating. In worst case scenarios, an illness may mean that families sell property, take kids out of school to work or the family must start begging.
The burden of care for a sick family member almost inevitably falls on the women. They lose the opportunity to receive an education and this can affect their futures. They lose out on the opportunities for work, more education, and the ability to save for future emergencies. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
In addition, the health of the environment is dictated by human interactions with natural resources.
The Need For Environmental Health
Humans interact with the environment every day. Our contact with the environment affect the quality of everyone’s life, the years of healthy life that can be expected, and disparities in overall health.
According to the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health, environmental health is determined by 6 themes that highlight elements of environmental health:
- Outdoor air quality
- Surface and ground water quality
- Toxic substances and hazardous wastes
- Homes and communities
- Infrastructure and surveillance
- Global environmental health
To create a global, healthy environment, scientists must rely on continuing research to help in understanding the effects of exposure to environmental hazards on human health.
According to UNICEF, a lack of clean water and poor environment present multiple common water and sanitation-related diseases:
Diarrhea is caused by a variety of microorganisms including viruses, bacteria and protozoans. Diarrhea causes a person to lose both water and electrolytes, which leads to dehydration and, in some cases, to death.
Long-term exposure to low concentrations of arsenic in drinking-water causes painful skin keratosis (hardened lesions) and can result in cancers of the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney.
Cholera is an acute bacterial infection of the intestinal tract. It causes severe attacks of diarrhea that can quickly lead to acute dehydration and death.
Fluorosis is a serious bone disease caused by high concentrations of fluoride occurring naturally in groundwater. Fluorosis is endemic in at least 25 countries across the globe.
Guinea worm disease
People contract the disease when drinking water contaminated with Dracunculus larvae. The larvae mature into large adult Guinea worms and leave the body after about a year, causing debilitating ulcers.
A hygienic environment, clean water and adequate sanitation are key factors in preventing opportunistic infections associated with HIV/AIDS, and in the quality of life of people living with the disease.
People become infected with intestinal parasitic worms through contact with soil that has been contaminated with human feces from an infected person, or by eating contaminated food.
Malaria is a serious disease caused by a parasite carried by certain types of mosquitoes. Each year, there are 300 million to 500 million cases of malaria, with about 1 million being children.
Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) is a disease caused by parasitic worms. They penetrate the skin of people swimming, bathing or washing in contaminated water.
Trachoma is an eye infection spread mainly through poor hygiene caused by lack of adequate water supplies and unsafe environmental sanitation conditions.
Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. About 12 million people are affected by typhoid every year.
These millions of poor quality environmental deaths can be prevented.
The Astounding Benefits of Quality Sanitation
Benefits of improved sanitation extend well beyond reducing the risk of diarrhea:
- reducing the spread of intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma
- reducing the severity and impact of malnutrition
- promoting dignity and boosting safety
- potential recovery of water, renewable energy and nutrients from fecal waste
World Health Organization research in 2012 found that for every $1.00US invested in sanitation, there was a return of $ 5.50US in lower health care costs, higher productivity, and lower numbers of premature deaths.
Those with access to quality sanitation are more likely to hold down a job, pursue an education, and be less at risk for deadly, water-borne diseases. This is especially true for women and girls whose lives are in need of sustainable development.
Creating Sustainable Development Goals
Research suggests that in sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls in poverty-stricken communities spend 40 billion hours per year collecting water. Time lost to gathering water translates to $24 billion in lost global economic benefits every year.
These women and girls not only walk up to 6 kilometers a day to find water, there is no guarantee the water will be clean. In addition, those hours of searching deprive women and girls of the chance at an education or the ability to work a steady job.
To address the issues of vulnerable populations, the United Nations created sustainable development goals in 2015. Some of these goals specifically hope to improve access to basic needs of the population that lives in poverty:
- End poverty everywhere
- End hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition
- Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages
- Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
- Build resilient infrastructure
- Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
The efforts of the global community have been marginally successful across the years, but the population of the Earth is decades away from achieving significant change in water and sanitation concerns.
As billions continue to live in abject poverty and atrocious conditions, the governments and organizations of the world continue to work toward sustainable solutions. Millions are dying every day due to poor sanitation and lack of clean water.
If you want to help resolve this situation, the simplest thing you can do it support the ongoing work of organizations that are on the front line of the sanitation crisis. While you may not be able to pick up and travel to a developing nation, you can play a critical part in the organizations that can do that.
There is a water crisis.
Because water covers 70% of our planet, we tend to think water will always be around. But, freshwater is actually quite rare. In fact, only 3% of Earth’s water is freshwater, and most of that is frozen in glaciers or otherwise unattainable.
Because of this, 1.1 billion people around the world don’t have access to fresh water, and another 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity at least one month out of each year. Unsanitary water effects 2.4 billion people—they are unprotected from water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid fever. Two million people die every year from diarrheal diseases.
Additionally, water systems that maintain thriving ecosystems and feed the human population have become strained. Lakes, rivers, and aquifers continue to dry up or become too contaminated for consumption or everyday use.
A staggering fifty percent of the world’s wetlands have vanished. Agriculture consumes, and wastes, more water than any other cause. Changing weather patterns are affecting rain and other sources of water worldwide, creating both droughts and floods.
By 2025, scientists predict that two-thirds of the world’s population could have water shortages and ecosystems around the globe will continue to disintegrate.
All this raises some important questions. What causes water scarcity? Are cities and countries running out of water? What can be done?
We’ll break it down further for you.
What Causes Water Scarcity?
Water scarcity can happen due to two things: physical water scarcity and economic water scarcity. Physical water scarcity is when natural resources don’t meet consumption demands. Economic water scarcity happens with poor management of water resources.
The United Nations Development Program has determined that economic scarcity is more often the case because regions cannot make it accessible. The improvement of water accessibility is the result many countries and governments hope for.
What Is Causing the Water Crisis?
The growing global water crisis has many potential causes:
- Climate change is affecting cloud patterns and depriving many global regions of rainwater.
- Climate change is also increasing rainfall in other areas, creating flood zones that are responsible for loss of homes and ecosystems.
- Population growth has created more water demand, and an additional 2.3 billion people are expected to inhabit the earth by 2050.
- Groundwater is vanishing as the earth’s aquifers are drained all over the world
- Water infrastructure is badly in need of repair, including treatment plants, pipes, and sewer systems all over the world.
- Natural infrastructure is critical for healthy ecosystems, but humans are creating conditions of deforestation, overgrazing, and urbanization.
- Water is being wasted through inefficiency and pollution.
- Globally, water has a cost; costs for cleaning, transport, and dissemination.
- Governments and corporations have no incentive to spend millions creating clean water technologies when water itself is cheaper.
Despite these obstacles, governments, businesses, universities, and private citizens are acknowledging the earth’s water challenges and starting to act. Fresh water alone will not do; public pressure and political will must be harnessed to ensure a sustainable future.
Which Countries and Cities Are Being Hit Hardest?
The water crisis is a global one, and there are multiple countries and cities facing imminent water crises.
São Paulo, Brazil is one of the 10 most populated cities in the world whose main reservoir fell below 4% capacity in 2015. When the crisis peaked, the city of over 21.7 million had less than 20 days of water supply, which led to looting and civil unrest.
The water crisis was declared over in 2016, but in January 2017, the water reserves were 15% below desired levels, creating another potential crisis.
Local officials in Bangalore have been stymied by expansive property developments following Bangalore’s meteoric rise as a tech hub. The result is that city’s water and sewage systems are being maxed out. The city’s antiquated plumbing needs an upgrade as the city loses over 50% of its drinking water to waste.
In 2014, with 20% of the world’s population residing in Beijing, the city had only 7% of the planet’s freshwater. Columbia University researchers estimate that the country’s water reserves were decimated 13% between 2000 and 2009.
Cairo, Egypt was once a great civilization, but its chief asset, the River Nile, is stressed today.
As the source of 97% of Egypt’s water, it is being polluted by untreated residential and agricultural waste. World Health Organization (WHO) data shows Egypt has high levels of water pollution related deaths. By 2025, the country will be critically short of potable water.
Jakarta, Indonesia faces the threat of rising sea levels and direct human action, most frequently, illegally dug wells that are draining the aquifers. Now, approximately 40% of Jakarta is below sea level, according the World Bank. Even worse, the aquifers are not being refilled by the heavy rain because the overabundance of concrete and asphalt keeps open fields from absorbing rainfall.
Moscow, Russia is home to one-quarter of the earth’s fresh water reserves. But, pollution problems beginning in the industrial age of the Soviet era continue to be prevalent. The residents of Moscow are tied to being dependent on surface water for 70% of their use. Most of that water does not meet necessary clean water standards.
Istanbul, Turkey is officially in a water stress zone as the supply has fallen since 2016.Local experts predict a water scarcity as soon as 2030. Recently, populated areas like Istanbul, with its 14 million people, have experienced shortages during drier months, and the reservoir levels continue to decline.
Mexico City, Mexico water shortages are nothing new for its 21 million people. Only 20% get a few hours from their taps each week and a further 20% have running water for partial days. The city is required to import up to 40% of its water and has no recycling processes.
London, England is not a place one thinks of when discussing water crises. However, the average rainfall is only 50% of that of New York and less than the average for Paris. London draws its water from its rivers. But, London is likely to experience water supply issues as soon as 2025.
Tokyo, Japan appreciates precipitation levels like that of Seattle; but, it only falls four months each year. Water is collected during the rainy season to help provide during the drier months. Private and public buildings in Tokyo use rainwater collection systems. Tokyo’s 30+ million people depend 70% on lakes, rivers, and melted snow.
Miami, Florida, USA is one of five US states with heavy rainfall. During the draining of swamps in the early 1900s, water from the Atlantic Ocean contaminated the main aquifer. Even though the problem was discovered in the 1930s, ocean water still leaks into the aquifer.
But, one of the hardest hit areas is Cape Town, South Africa. The causes of Cape Town’s water crisis are under debate. Cape Town is on the verge of approaching Day Zero when they officially run out of water. Day Zero is based on current estimates of water usage, and currently it’s estimated it will occur sometime in 2019. To push the date back as far as possible, city residents are on strict water rations.
The authorities are fighting congestion in the streets and policing fighting in the water queues. The drought is compounded by invasive species sucking up water resources, population growth, poor planning, mismanagement, and lack of development of new resources.
Data shows that 2017 and the years 2015 to 2017 were the driest in Cape Town since the early 1930s. The drought seems to show up once every 84 years. Long-term data estimate a massive drought occurs every 311 years. However, human-caused climate change could be speeding up the drought cycle.
What Is Being Done In Response?
The 2030 Water Resources Group has collected water scarcity solution plans from studies conducted worldwide. Here are a few of the dozens of proposals being attempted around the world.
Waterless Dying Technology in Textile Processing
Textile dyeing uses significant amounts of water and generates extremely polluted water run-off that requires costly treatment before discharge into local rivers. A new dyeing technology, called DyeOx, has been implemented in Taiwan. It uses carbon dioxide rather than water to dye textiles. The process in this case study showed a clean water savings of 8.25 million cubic meters.
Balancing Supply and Demand Through Water Metering
England’s southern and eastern regions have little effective rainfall. These densely populated areas, with an expanding population, could potentially impact climate change that worsens the conditions of an already water-stressed region. In 2010, Southern Water Services Ltd (SWS), started a five-year project of installing 500,000 intelligent meters. A leakage reduction program demonstrated reduced losses are possible.
Institutional Reform for Irrigation Management
This project was set up on the two main canal and branch networks in the Nile Delta. Experts are relining irrigation canals to considerably reduce fresh water leakage. This is in conjunction with governmental reforms and accountability, training, and education of farmers on water management.
Integrated Irrigation Modernization Project
A $700 million public and private modernization project began in 30 states in Mexico to increase competitiveness and efficacy of irrigated agriculture. The project applied a collection of improvements to irrigation infrastructure to increase productivity per unit of water.
There is no doubt that water scarcity is a global issue requiring the cooperation of governments, corporations, scientists, organizations, and citizens worldwide. It will take the effort of multiple agencies to begin a significant use of fresh water recycling technologies as well as policies to reduce consumption during drought conditions.
With the studies and proposals currently in place, as well as those that will be implemented in the near future, there is some hope that our planet will be able to continue to provide fresh water for all its inhabitants.
Oceans and the life they sustain are vital to humankind. Unfortunately, overfishing, climate change, and pollution threaten these habitats.
The oceans are one connected body of salt water that covers more than 70 percent of the Earth, and we depend on these waters for human survival. They influence everything from the weather to the food supply to the health of seaside communities. Yet, we are the greatest offenders when it comes to pollution.
The oceans are also teeming with creatures that are critical to our ecosystems. Fish, dolphins, squid, octopuses, eels, and whales populate the open ocean, while lobsters, starfish, oysters, crabs, and snails scurry about the ocean bottom. Mammals like walruses, otters, and polar bears depend on the ocean for their survival as well. Coral reefs are a biome of colorful activity found in shallow, tropical waters.
All areas of the ocean are impacted by human activities. Lost or discarded nets, spilled oil and garbage, runoff, and sewage are all creating dead zones in the oceans. Excess carbon dioxide turns ocean waters acidic, and freshwater from melted glaciers will alter the weather-driving currents.
Heartbreaking Ocean Pollution Facts
Scientists estimate how much floating garbage is out there, but not even oceanographers can tell us exactly how much – the oceans are just too big. In 2002, Nature magazine reported that, “…during the 1990s, debris in the waters near Britain doubled; in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica the increase was a hundredfold. And depending on where they sample, oceanographers have found that between 60 and 95 percent of today’s marine debris is made of plastic.”
Where does all this garbage come from?
Plastic and other garbage enters the ocean when people throw it from ships, leave it in the path of the tide, when rivers carry it there, or when sewage systems and storm drains overflow. In spite of the Ocean Dumping Reform Act, “…the US still releases more than 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm runoff every year,” according to a 2004 EPA report.
This problem is significant because plastics do not degrade in seawater. Rather, they accumulate daily, and, thanks to ocean currents, the plastics travel thousands of miles.
As of April of 2017, scientists estimated that about 19 billion pounds of garbage are currently present in the world’s oceans.
“We’re being overwhelmed by our waste,” said Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer who led the 2015 study that determined this staggering number. According to Jambeck, ocean waste amounts will double by 2025 unless we do something on a global scale to reduce ocean waste.
Plastics are the top type of garbage found in the ocean. Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit that organizes an annual coastal cleanup event in more than 150 countries worldwide, estimate that plastic debris makes up around 85 percent of all the trash collected from beaches, waterways and oceans.
Because plastics don’t biodegrade, they simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces as they are exposed to sunlight. These microplastics are shorter than 5 millimeters long, and some are microbeads.
The United Nations Environment Program note that, “…there could be as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in our seas.” What is particularly alarming is the five, enormous swirling garbage convergences called “gyres”. These large garbage islands are the subject of new and innovative ocean cleaning efforts and technology.
One of the most troublesome sources of ocean garbage is litter from single-use plastic products ― plastic bags in particular. These plastics are threatening at least 600 marine life species, including leatherback turtles, whales, and seabirds. These animals mistake the plastics for food and cannot digest them, and the plastics eventually kill the animals.
People need to be educated about how widespread ocean pollution is and how it not only affects marine life, but people and the environment as well.
- Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by pollution every year.
- The Mississippi River carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico each year, creating a “dead zone” in the Gulf each summer.
- 40% of the freshwater lakes in the US are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming.
- 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, storm water, and industrial waste are dumped into US water every year.
- In 2010, recycling and composting prevented 85 million tons of pollution.
- Cleanups can save animals lives and discourage people from littering in the future.
Cleaning up Ocean Pollution
It is critical that we, as residents on this planet, join together to fight ocean trash. There are multiple agencies, nonprofits, and corporations who are joining the fight, and we can support them.
The International Coastal Cleanup organization started more than 30 years ago, when communities came together to collect and document the trash along their Texas coastlines.
The organization connected with the Texas General Land Office, local businessmen and women, and other ocean-lovers, and planned what would be Ocean Conservancy’s first Cleanup. Volunteers didn’t just pick up trash; they recorded each item collected on a data card in order to help find ways to eradicate ocean trash moving forward.
The Cleanup has grown vastly in 30 years. Volunteers from states and territories across the US and more than 100 countries participate in a Cleanup event every year.
Renee Tuggle, the Texas State Coordinator for the International Coastal Cleanup, said, “What I have learned from the Cleanup experience, is that even though the Cleanup started in Texas with a small number of 2,800 volunteers… it has grown into a massive cleanup that involves both national and international volunteers all pitching in for the same common goal of cleaning up our coastal waters and taking care of our beaches. I am proud to be a part of this global movement and I appreciate all of the help and support I get from the Ocean Conservancy staff.”
At a former naval air station in Alameda, California, across the bay from San Francisco, workers are welding a football field length black tube together. It is a single piece of a larger system designated to attack the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Boyan Slat, the innovator behind the idea, presented his science at a TEDx talk and The Ocean Cleanup idea began. At just 18-years-old, Slat had discovered that cleaning up microplastics and microbeads currently in the ocean could take almost 80,000 years. Now, his organization is poised to clean up a huge majority of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years.
There are also things individuals or small groups can do to help:
Be Aware of your Carbon Footprint
Be conscious of your energy use at home and work. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, take the stairs, and avoid oversetting your thermostat.
Make Sustainable Seafood Choices
When you are grocery shopping or dining out, reduce the demand for overexploited species by choosing sustainably sourced seafood.
Use Less Plastic
Plastics kill tens of thousands of marine animals every year. Carry a reusable water bottle, use cloth totes for shopping, and always recycle whenever possible.
Help Care for the Beach
Always clean up after yourself and participate in a beach cleanup. Explore the ocean but don’t interfere with wildlife or remove rocks and coral.
Don’t Buy Items that Exploit Marine Life
Avoid buying items like coral jewelry, tortoiseshell hair accessories, and shark products.
Be an Ocean Friendly Pet Owner
Read pet food labels and consider seafood sustainability when choosing food for your pet. Don’t stock your aquarium with wild-caught saltwater fish, and never release aquarium fish into natural bodies of water.
Support Organizations that Protect the Ocean
Consider giving financial support or offering your time at volunteering.
Be the Change in Your Community
Research the ocean conservation positions of public officials before voting. Patronize restaurants and markets that offer only sustainable seafood.
Be Responsible when Traveling the Ocean
Practice responsible kayaking, boating, kayaking, and other activities on the water. Don’t ever litter and be aware of marine life in the water.
Educate Yourself About Oceans and Marine Life
The more you learn about this critical system, the more you can share that knowledge to educate others.
What Else Can We Do To Help?
The threats to our ocean ecosystems seem overwhelming. The oceans experience pollution, overfishing, climate change, and other issues. How can we make a difference as individuals? We can make a big difference starting here:
Learn about the ocean and how you impact the ecosystem. Read about conservancy and restoration – and then share what you have learned.
Be Water Wise
Reduce your family’s use of chemicals. Use fertilizer minimally, buy organic fruits and veggies, and choose non-toxic cleaning products.
Trim Down Trash
Trash doesn’t disappear. Moving water can carry loose trash to the ocean.
Don’t Live a Disposable Lifestyle
Invest in reusable bags, beverage cups, and non-plastic containers. Always recycle.
Never litter and be a part of the solution by participating in beach cleanups.
Be Fish Friendly
Only buy products that you can guarantee were sustainably harvested. Demand sustainable seafood at the grocery store and in at favorite dining spots.
On this little blue planet, we are but one species and we are the most dangerous to all the others. Our oceans and sea life are not replaceable. We can and must do our part to clean, conserve, and improve the conditions in our planet’s oceans.
Without the oceans, we put our lives in jeopardy. Let’s do the smart thing and take care of our oceans.
The Critical Facts You Need To Know About The Clean Water Crisis
Water is essential for life. Not only does it connect every aspect of life, it’s a fundamental human need.
Every person requires at least 20-50 liters of clean, safe water daily for drinking, cleaning, cooking and more. And despite scientific advancements, about 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source, with an estimated 2.5 billion people lacking access to improved sanitation.
That’s more than 35 percent of the earth’s population.
As chef Marcus Samuelsson says:
Clean water and access to food are some of the simplest things that we can take for granted each and every day. In places like Africa, these can be some of the hardest resources to attain if you live in a rural area.
Without clean, potable water, or ways to sanitize water, people are left with dirty, deadly water that can make them seriously ill or have fatal outcomes.
Millions of people find themselves in the midst of a clean water crisis.
Much of the world’s population get their water from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water, and the vast majority of those people are the world’s poorest people.
According to The Nature Conservancy, about half of the world’s 500 most important rivers – the water sources for hundreds of millions of people – are either seriously polluted or seriously depleted. In other words, millions of people have no option but to draw their water from sources that are rampant with pollution.
In this article, we’re going to give you the what, why, and how of the clean water crisis. In order to make a difference, you need knowledge. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is the Clean Water Crisis?
Put simply, the clean water crisis describes the global epidemic of freshwater pollution and depletion. Every single day, people around the world die from a lack of water, lack of access to sanitation, lack of clean and potable waters, and other waterborne diseases.
Freshwater supplies are limited, water sources are vulnerable, and the poor are often disadvantaged in that many of them live in water-deficient countries.
It’s estimated that about 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation and that about 780 million people don’t have access to an improved water source. Even more:
- Approximately 801,000 children younger than 5 years of age perish from diarrhea each year, mostly in developing countries.
- Unsafe drinking water, polluted water used for hygiene, and and inadequate sanitation together contribute to a staggering 88% of deaths from diarrheal diseases.
- Trachoma, the world’s primary cause of preventable blindness, is the result of poor hygiene and sanitation.
Want it put even more starkly? Every 90 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease that could have been prevented simply by providing access to clean water.
As Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programme, says:
If 90 school buses filled with kindergartners were to crash every day, with no survivors, the world would take notice.
According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the regions with the lowest coverage of sanitation and potable water are sub-Saharan Africa (at about 31 percent), Southern Asia (at about 33 percent), and Easter Asia (at 65 percent).
Why sub-Saharan Africa? The answer is complicated, just as the water crisis is.
First, Africa is a predominantly arid continent, with little rainfall in many areas. Because of this, atmospheric conditions regularly refresh the water supply.
Additionally, many of the freshwater bodies in Africa are controlled and restricted by governments or hopelessly polluted.
Furthermore, the infrastructure required to bring water from the Congo River (the largest supply of freshwater) to the population at large is incredibly expensive. The countries who need this infrastructure most simply can’t afford it.
Finally, the lack of education regarding sanitary and hygienic use of water results in many people consuming filthy water without being aware of the consequences.
The Effects of Contaminated Water
As briefly noted above, unsafe or polluted water doesn’t just account for fatalities. In fact, unsanitary water can cause numerous waterborne diseases that result in millions off deaths every year.
Over 800,000 children under five years old will die from diarrhea each year that’s been contracted from waterborne illnesses. This amounts to waterborne, diarrheal diseases causing a staggering 11% of the 7.6 millions deaths of children under the age of five.
Millions of people worldwide are also infected with Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) through their water sources. These diseases, like Buruli Ulcer, Trachoma, and Guinea Worm Disease, are most often found in areas with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and insufficient hygiene practices.
Make no mistake, however. Drinking, cooking with, showering with, and using contaminated water doesn’t just make people sick: using contaminated water is a dangerous, deadly practice.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 3.4 million people die as a result of water-related diseases. Most of the fatalities are young children who die of illnesses caused by organisms that thrive in water sources contaminated by raw sewage.
Because there’s no access to sanitation and no modern plumbing, human waste often mixes with local water systems, as well as things like animal waste, fertilizers, and industrial by-products. All of this leads to immense pollution of potable water sources.
How Can You Help The Clean Water Crisis?
If you have access to clean, drinkable water, you might feel too far removed from this issue to help bring about change. But that’s not the case. There are dozens of things you can do to help with the clean water crisis.
It’s possible that simply by going about your daily routines, you’re unknowingly contributing of the pollution of our struggling waterways. Educating yourself on how you can change this and what behaviors you can implement to help will go a long way in helping to solve the clean water crisis.
Some simple things to consider are:
- If you have a dog, pick up after him. Animal waste can leak into storm drains and water supplies, polluting the water supply.
- Consider about how you treat your toilets and sinks. Sewage treatment processes can be hugely affected by flushing non-degradable products and by draining paint, oil, or chemical cleaners into sinks.
- Check your faucets and pipes for leaks so as to not waste water, and even check your water meter for hidden leaks. You can even go as far as installing water-saving shower heads and low-flow faucet aerators.
- Other simple things like not letting the faucet run, minimizing garbage disposal units, and taking shorter showers can help conserve clean water, too.
On a larger scale, there are bigger things you can do to help conserve clean water, such as donating to programs that are fighting for clean water in these areas. You can also get involved with these programs and offer your services to help people find access to clean water.
Investing in companies and organizations that are fighting for clean water in these regions can help fund reliable water projects that will serve villages and schools.
The Clean Water Crisis: What it Means
Water is a fundamental human need, and each person needs liters upon liters of clean water daily to survive. Unfortunately, people around the world are suffering from lack of clean, potable water. Bodies of freshwater are constantly being depleted and polluted.
This, in turn, leads to millions of illnesses and fatalities every year. Tens of millions of people are made seriously ill or killed by a host of water-related ailments every single year. The saddest part? These illnesses and deaths could be prevented.
The excessive amounts of microbes and chemicals in freshwater sources make it impossible and dangerous to drink, and the contamination is only getting worse.
Because our freshwater sources are limited, it’s absolutely essential that we learn how to conserve and clean our existing water.
We agree wholeheartedly with the World Health Organization, which noted:
In 2010, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation. Everyone has the right to sufficient, continuous, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.
Clean water is precious. Don’t take it for granted.