Waiting on Water

The provision of clean water to the developing world needs more attention

We all remember those life skills we learned in kindergarten: reading, finger-painting, and, of course, hand washing. Basic hygiene is a part of every American elementary school curriculum, and in the United States, things like soap, clean drinking water, and access to toilets are taken for granted. However, in other parts of the world, such simple resources could save lives.

There is a stark disparity in access to proper sanitation facilities between developed and developing countries. Sanitation coverage (sufficient access to public toilets, clean drinking water, functional sewage) is available to 98 percent of people in developed nations and only 49 percent of people in developing nations. The World Health Organization revealed in its 2010 annual assessment that 2.6 billion people, about one third of the world’s population, do not have access to even a simple toilet. The lack of these basic resources is a fundamental problem that we should all be more worried about.

A vital part of sanitations efforts is the provision of clean water. Consider that Americans use on average 138 gallons of water daily while most of the people who live in slums only have access to eight gallons of water for all of their daily uses. This is barely enough to fulfill their needs. In fact, a five-minute shower uses more water than most people use in one day.

And the issue is not just the lack of water, but also the lack of water in a condition appropriate for drinking, cooking, and bathing. The WHO’s 2010 asessment cites that 900 million people are not drinking water from improved—safe, clean—sources. The United Nations highlights that this lack of improved water stems from poverty, political relations, power struggles and other inequalities; in many cases, providing clean water is significantly more difficult and complex than providing any water.

These issues merit urgent attention because areas without clean water and proper sanitation facilities (like toilets) are breeding grounds for disease. Water quickly becomes contaminated and begins to endanger the lives of citizens by increasing levels of diarrhea and subsequent malnutrition. It can even lead to epidemics of life-threatening diseases; the most recent cholera outbreak in Haiti, caused by heavy rains from Hurricane Tomas and a lack of sewage, has claimed the lives of over 900 people.

There have been some efforts to address these problems, but they are not enough. Through the efforts of multiple organizations, about 90 percent of the world population is expected to have access to cleaner water by 2015. However, the world population is expected to increase by three billion people by 2050, and 90 percent of these three billion, will be born to families in developing countries. While there is hope for improved water, the exponential population increase poses an additional challenge.

A recent study determined that 2.4 million lives could be saved yearly if everyone had access to sanitation facilities, clean water and practiced basic hygiene. As it turns out, the lack of sanitation is the prominent cause of infection in the world. Essentially, basic kindergarten knowledge, and the resources to execute it, has the potential to save lives.

Eesha D. Dave ’13, a Crimson FM editor, is a Romance languages and literatures concentrator in Leverett House.


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