In the morning you wake up before the sun to walk miles to collect water for your family. As you approach the river, you are relieved to find that there are no cows around and you will not have to push your way through to the water. You bend over and your bucket is heavy as you lift it from the slow moving river. The water is discolored, but you still raise it to your head to take it home to your children.
You and your family are blessed to have a little bit of food and this water, but the bellies of your children are bloated and they don’t seem to be growing very much. They lack energy to go to school and run and play with the other children. You try to give them as much food as possible, but it just isn’t enough. What if this was your reality?
We often hear about malnutrition when organizations are working in developing communities. It is a wide-spread issue touching one of every three children in the world. According to the World Health Organization, “malnutrition is characterized by inadequate or excess intake of protein, energy, and micronutrients such as vitamins, and the frequent infections and disorders that result.” We think that the best way to help them is to provide nutritious food, but this is not the only thing we must do.
A little known fact is that clean water is key to fighting against malnutrition. When children have access to clean water, their bodies are able to absorb the key nutrients that will make them healthy. As published by WashAid, “half of all cases of undernutrition are estimated to be associated with repeated diarrhea, intestinal worms and other infections as a direct result of inadequate WASH.”
With this understanding, we are taking action to help children to grow up to be healthy and strong. We are working with our partners to make sure that clean water is a part of nutrition programs by including distributions of water filters. If you would like to help children around the world to enjoy health, become a water sponsor. Your $5 per month gift for a year supplies 5 children with safe water for over 5 years. This gives mothers peace of mind, knowing the water they work so hard to collect is enabling their children to go to school and run and play.
What a gift it is to have pure, clean water!
Not just for drinking and cooking, but to wash produce, scrub hands, brush teeth, and bathe.
Clean water is a basic human need, yet the UN’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health reports that 663 million people still lack ‘improved’ drinking water. That’s despite efforts being made each year to supply more people with better quality water.
One side of this reality is the diseases that routinely accompany contaminated water. A salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, is one common bacterial infection. It can happen anywhere, but this disease plagues developing countries with contaminated water supplies.
What are salmonella, salmonella infection, and salmonellosis?
These three terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but salmonella is the name of the bacteria, while salmonellosis and salmonella infection are the resulting illness.
This genus of bacteria is responsible for one of the most common forms of food poisoning worldwide. Globally, millions of cases of salmonellosis are reported every year. Many more go unreported.
Discovered by a doctor in the 1870’s, the bacteria became known as salmonella when a veterinary pathologist involved in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s microorganism research program found salmonella in hogs that were dying. The genus “salmonella” was named for this researcher, Daniel Salmon.
Most salmonella infections can be classified as stomach flu or gastroenteritis. The infection strikes the intestinal tract. The bacteria typically live in human and animal intestines, including birds, and then are shed through their feces. Even someone with no symptoms can be a carrier and infect others.
The way most humans become infected is through ingesting water that’s been contaminated with the bacteria, or tainted food – in particular raw/undercooked meat, poultry, eggs or egg products. Salmonella infections are more common in the summer than winter.
Where is Salmonella bacteria found?
The bacteria itself is found worldwide. Humans carry certain types of salmonella. It’s found in wild and domestic animals. Poultry, swine, cattle, wild birds, and rodents can carry it, but so can reptiles – iguanas, turtles, and others. Even dogs and cats may harbor the bacteria.
What are the symptoms of salmonella infection?
Sometimes people with salmonella infection have no symptoms. Others develop diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fevers within a few hours to 3 days.
A complete list of symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Blood in the stool
The salmonella infection generally lasts from four to ten days. It’s normally not life-threatening, and without treatment, most healthy people recover within two weeks.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Infants, young children, the elderly, transplant recipients, pregnant women and unborn babies, and those with compromised immune systems are more likely to have an acute form of the illness or be in danger if complications occur.
Diarrhea linked to salmonella can be dehydrating. Dehydration occurs when you aren’t able to drink enough liquids to replace fluid lost from diarrhea. Even after abdominal pain and diarrhea subside, it may be months before bowels are back to normal.
You may be dehydrated if you’re experiencing these or other signs:
- Dry mouth and or tongue
- Little urine output
- Producing few to no tears
- Sunken eyes
How does salmonella cause diarrhea?
It’s insidious! Here’s Science Daily’s description of this cunning invader:
Salmonella is a pathogenic bacteria which penetrates intestinal epithelium cells which form the topmost layer of the intestinal tissue. Although the pathogens are killed in these cells, they succeed in provoking inflammation that destroys the intestinal flora and nullifies their protective function. Their comrades of the same species that remained in the intestine exploit this, and proliferate, and the affected person develops violent diarrhea.
Sometimes dehydration is severe enough to require medical attention or hospitalization. In those cases, blood or stool samples help medical personnel distinguish salmonella infection from other illnesses with the same symptoms.
How is a salmonella infection treated?
As noted before, some cases clear up on their own. Severe cases may require hospitalization to receive fluids intravenously. Anti-diarrhea meds may be prescribed or medications to relieve cramping, although the latter may prolong diarrhea that comes with the infection.
Antibiotics don’t help with uncomplicated cases of salmonella. They’re usually used for treatment when it appears salmonella bacteria have entered the bloodstream, and sometimes for severe cases or patients with a compromised immune system. Antibiotics could increase a risk of relapse.
Salmonella infections become life-threatening when complications develop. especially when the infection spreads beyond the intestines to the bloodstream. Once present in the bloodstream it’s called bacteremia. Bacteremia can lead to infection of any organ, like the brain, spinal cord, heart valves, lining of the heart, or bone marrow.
What is typhoid fever?
One variety of salmonella bacteria leads to typhoid fever, a bacterial infection of the intestinal tract and sometimes the bloodstream. It is caused by the Salmonella Typhi bacteria. It can be a deadly disease.
Typhoid is much more common in developing countries than in the U.S. where it is now considered very rare. In the 1800’s there were numerous outbreaks in New York traced back to one immigrant later identified as a carrier.
She herself was healthy, but she was the cause of many others becoming ill, some of whom died. Because there was no antibiotic salmonella treatment and no immunization for typhoid, she eventually ended up in isolation until her death. She was known as “Typhoid Mary.”
One other possible outcome of salmonella is reactive arthritis (Reiter’s syndrome), although only in a small number of cases. It causes joint pain, eye irritation, and pain when urinating, and can lead to chronic arthritis, a condition that’s difficult to treat.
What are the causes of salmonella infection?
Most people become infected by eating foods or drinking water that’s been contaminated by feces. Some think this should be easy to avoid, but areas with poor sanitation and a lack of clean water are incredibly vulnerable. A home water filter can make the difference between illness and good health.
Consider just some of the situations that produce unsanitary conditions in the global south. They may drink contaminated water. People can’t clean their hands effectively after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
Raw produce brought in from fields may not be washed free of bacteria. Fish or other seafood could be harvested from contaminated water. Butchered meat might not be processed using safe methods. Food handlers may not have cleaned their hands thoroughly so feces could be left on food.
Cross-contamination during food preparation is likely if surfaces can’t be cleaned sufficiently. Lack of clean water unquestionably makes everything much more complicated.
What are commonly infected foods?
Raw meat, poultry, and seafood often are infected with salmonella bacteria if feces are present. Raw or undercooked eggs are often a culprit, even though eggs have a shell. Sometimes infected chickens produce eggs containing salmonella before the shell has even been formed.
If raw meats or eggs come into contact with foods that are eaten without cooking, like salads, bacteria will be ingested. Unpasteurized milk and milk products like raw milk cheese can be infected. The FDA has even found some salmonella outbreaks traced to contaminated spices.
Any foods can become contaminated if you touch animals (especially birds and reptiles) and then transfer bacteria by touching inside your mouth or eating without properly cleaning your hands.
Salmonella can even spread from person-to-person. Medicine.net explains that The organisms can be transferred from person-to-person by both direct (via saliva, fecal/oral spread, kissing) and indirect contact (for example, using contaminated eating utensils).
It’s easy to understand why sanitary practices such as safe food handling and hand washing are crucial, yet the difficulty of accomplishing them without clean water.
What are risk factors for salmonella infection?
International travel in areas with poor sanitation raise your risk. Salmonella infection, including the varieties that cause typhoid fever, are more common in developing countries.
Owning a pet bird or reptile that may carry salmonella bacteria. Reptiles (which includes turtles) are not considered appropriate pets for kids.
Stomach or bowel disorders may leave you at higher risk.
The human body has natural defenses against salmonella infection, but certain medications or physical problems lower those defenses. Here are examples:
- Stomach acid can kill many types of salmonella bacteria. Taking antacids lowers the stomach’s acidity allowing more bacteria to survive.
- Anti-rejection drugs after an organ transplant
- Inflammatory bowel disease makes your intestinal lining more vulnerable to salmonella bacteria taking hold.
- Recent antibiotic treatment may reduce “good” bacteria in your intestines, making it harder to battle salmonella.
- Immune problems, AIDS, Sickle cell disease, and malaria.
How Can You Prevent Salmonellosis?
Can you imagine the dilemma of those in developing countries who must function with no clean water? Keep their plight in mind as you consider a list of best practices to avoid salmonella infections.
Common sense dictates that avoidance of sources is the best defense against the infection. Beyond that, there are rules to steer clear of the spread of salmonella:
- Wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet, changing a diaper, cleaning up after pets, before, during and after food preparation.
- Cook food thoroughly, then refrigerate or freeze food without delay.
- Those with diarrhea shouldn’t prepare food, care for hospitalized patients, the elderly or children.
- Cook ground poultry and poultry pieces to a minimum temperature of 74°C (165°F), whole poultry to 82°C (180°F), other ground meats to 71°C (160°F). A probe thermometer is the way to verify cooking temperatures.
- Place cooked foods on clean surfaces only, not where food was prepped, and not onto a plate which was used for the item before cooking.
- Don’t leave food at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Use pasteurized milk and milk products.
- Thoroughly cook eggs. Don’t use eggs with cracked or damaged shells.
- Avoid homemade ice cream, eggnog, or unbaked cookie dough made with raw eggs. Products made commercially like eggnog and ice cream are made with pasteurized eggs, not raw.)
- Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables in clean water before eating them.
- When buying, bagging, prepping or storing food under refrigeration, keep raw meat separate from fruits, vegetables, already-cooked foods or ready-to-eat items.
- Use separate cutting boards for meats versus fruit and veggies.
Cholera is a familiar name for an ailment that is not well understood in modern western society. It was eradicated in many developed nations years ago, though cholera has recently made a comeback across the globe due to changing weather patterns, increased globalism, and other factors that are not well understood.
Cholera is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with a bacterium called Vibrio cholerae.
Cholera was last common in the U.S. in the 19th Century, before modern water and sewage treatment systems prevented its spread via contaminated water. Today, only 5-10 cases of cholera are reported annually in the U.S., and half of those are contracted abroad. Due to its waterborne nature, rare cases of cholera outbreaks can occur in the U.S. due to contaminated seafood.
In spite of its extreme rarity in the U.S. and Western Europe, cholera outbreaks are still a serious health problem in other parts of the world. The World Health Organization documents over 150,000 cases each year.
Cholera is most common in places with poor sanitation systems, overcrowding, active war zones, and famine. Cholera is still considered an epidemic in parts of Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.
Tropical climates that never get cold enough to kill bacteria combine with wet soil and unsanitary groundwater to mix with most drinking water supplies, allowing a single case of cholera to spread to entire communities and preventing the bacteria from ever being truly eradicated from regions with overcrowded, rapidly developing cities.
In recent years, storms and political turmoil have interfered with local water supplies and created sanitation crises and cholera outbreaks in countries across the globe.
Global Disease Transmission
A recent cholera outbreak in Haiti claimed tens of thousands of lives, and the country has repeatedly claimed that it had the disease completely under control before visitors from foreign countries brought it back into its borders.
After deliberations dating back to 2010, it was determined that the outbreak began near a United Nations peacekeepers’ camp, where nearly 500 people freshly arrived from Nepal, where an ongoing cholera outbreak was occurring at the time.
The disease has killed over ten thousand people and infected hundreds of thousands more in Haiti since its reintroduction, and since its recent natural disaster woes critically damaged infrastructure, the nation is now struggling to manage cholera once again.
This story is tragically familiar across the globe–developing nations manage to radically reduce the infection rate of cholera and other sanitation-related diseases, only to suffer a setback in the form of natural disaster or war that damages infrastructure and leads to high-risk transmission behaviors like obtaining water from unverified sources.
In a nation like Haiti, where civil progress effectively eradicated the disease, its reintroduction shortly after a devastating earthquake has had sobering consequences. In nations with underdeveloped medical systems that are no longer actively treating cholera, keeping up with the medical load of fast-spreading epidemics can prove daunting if not impossible.
In nations that still struggle with cholera, like Bangladesh, vaccines have been created and programs implemented in an effort to curtail cholera’s devastating effects. Nations which recognize their ineffective infrastructure or climates that make eliminating the disease nearly impossible are combating its spread by immunizing humans to its effects. But in regions where cholera is no longer common, an outbreak can have devastating consequences before medical professionals ever realize what’s happening.
Transmission and Treatment
Part of what makes cholera so devastating is that it kills so quickly and can be transmitted rapidly. Within hours of becoming symptomatic, patients often lose so much fluid through acute gastrointestinal distress that they are critically dehydrated. While specialized blends of fluids and antibiotics can rapidly restore health, missing the treatment window renders patients incapacitated and further increases the risk of transmission.
Many tropical countries with underdeveloped water and sanitation infrastructure harbor massive amounts of cholera bacteria in groundwater and sewage systems, which often manage to contaminate public water supplies. Once an outbreak begins, the contamination worsens through infected individuals’ diarrhea and vomit, which are both constant presences in cholera patients. Those tending to the ill often fall ill, and classic epidemic conditions rapidly occur.
Thanks to the rapid travel and warmer climate of the 21st Century, infected individuals can now bring the disease to areas which have not seen it in over a century, which then creates new epidemics as those regions struggle to treat the infected and contain its spread. Recent civil wars and unrest across the globe have worsened these issues as disruptions to civil utility services and violent threats to hospitals prevent people from accessing clean water or proper treatment.
War and Cholera
In Yemen, a brutal civil war has created even worse epidemic conditions, as the already highly-contagious disease is transmitted faster by resource shortages caused by military blockades. Without guaranteed access to water or food, people are forced to compromise on food and sanitation, which leads to infection. And with war causing crowded hospitals and blocking transport of medical supplies, hospitals cannot keep up with the mounting demand for treatment.
The World Health Organization has identified the situation in Yemen as one of the worst outbreaks of cholera in modern times. Combined with restricted access to basic resources like food and roadways, the rapid deterioration and transmission associated with cholera are proving even more damaging than usual. The correlation between survival rate and rapid access to medical care means that war-torn nations are hit particularly hard.
As The Guardian noted:
Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen, said an outbreak of this scale and speed is “what you get when a country is brought to its knees by conflict, when a healthcare system is on the brink of collapse, when its children are starving, and when its people are blocked from getting the medical treatment they need”.
Kirolos said: “There’s no doubt this is a man-made crisis. Cholera only rears its head when there’s a complete and total breakdown in sanitation. All parties to the conflict must take responsibility for the health emergency we find ourselves in.”
Cholera In the 21st Century
Yemen and Haiti are two tragically current case studies in the epidemiology of cholera. Whether reintroduced through international travel or exacerbated by civil war, the disease still has the potential to be as devastating as it was when the first outbreaks swept across the world in the 19th Century.
This is held in tragic contrast with nations which can effectively treat patients who appear to be on the brink of death and release them from the hospital the same day they are admitted.
Modern antibiotics and rehydrating solutions are largely effective treatments, and nations like Vietnam and Bangladesh have decided to preempt rapid strains on vulnerable infrastructure by implementing vaccination programs that prevent humans from acting as transmission vectors in crowded cities.
The dichotomy between modern medicine and the strains of population growth, global travel, and human conflict combine to create situations where cholera outbreaks are still imminently possible and always tragic; but, thanks to our understanding of sanitation, disease transmission, and treatment, most outbreaks are much less catastrophic than those of the past.
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.
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.