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Clean Water: The Nations’ Hydration

Have You Ever?

Have you ever thought about where your water comes from? When you want a glass of water, how much time does it take to think about where you will get it from? Are you ever worried that you won’t have any? Or that it will be unsafe to drink?

Explanation

The majority of the world’s population has access to clean drinking water, but according to the World Health Organization, 2.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed drinking water. Clean drinking water is essential for health and nutrition, and is a basic human right.

Definition

The WHO defines improved water sources as sources that are protected from contamination via the method of construction they employ, like a pipe, or active intervention, like covers and disinfectants. Improved doesn’t mean that the water is safe or that there are no pathogens or contaminants. It just means that the source uses a method that is most likely to prevent these from entering the water. Improved water sources include a house connection, where the water is piped to a tap inside the house, a standpipe, where the water is piped to a tap outside, and a borehole, where you manually pump water up from the ground. Sources that are not improved are either not chemically treated, or uncovered, leaving them open to possible contaminants. Bottled and tanker truck water are also unimproved because they are poorly regulated. Basic drinking water services refer to access to an improved water source 30 minutes away or less.

History 

It is only relatively recently with the invention of modern water treatment facilities that clean water has been available to the masses. Contaminated water, especially in cities, has always been linked with disease, particularly cholera in the late 1800s. In the last century, nations around the world have established public water systems that reinforced the increasingly widespread idea of a human right to clean water.

According to the WHO, in 2017, 71% of the world’s population had access to safely managed drinking water, which was not only improved, but available on the premises when needed, and free from any contaminants. The rest of the population either had basic drinking water or completely lacked access to basic drinking water. Coverage is particularly low in sub-Saharan Africa, and this region is also making the slowest gains in expanding coverage. Clean drinking water coverage is particularly an issue in rural areas where the population is more spread out. Although, with massive population growth in urban areas, there are also coverage gaps in cities. 

How It Works

There are a variety of infections that are related to contaminated or scarce sources of water. These include infections spread by organisms that live in water or organisms that breed in or bite near water, infections that occur when you consume the pathogen itself through drinking contaminated water, and complications that result from the lack of water. The lack of safe water is also a major cause of diarrheal disease, which is transmitted by contaminated water or food. Diarrheal diseases can start or perpetuate cycles of malnutrition or undernutrition. 

In places where the water source is outside or far from the home, there are dangers associated with water collection, especially in areas where violence is common. These dangers disproportionately affect women, who are often responsible for water collection. 

Natural and humanitarian disasters, which are occurring more and more often, can cause severe harm to infrastructure, including the water supply, directly threatening access. The violence and instability that frequently accompany these disasters can further threaten people’s ability to access water sources. Additionally, these disasters displace people, who are then likely to live in temporary camps without adequate water sources. 

Expanding clean water coverage will require extensive investments in infrastructure and technology. However, behavior change interventions and disaster preparedness planning are also important so that people are confident in their ability to access these sources, even during crises.

Why Care?

Sustainable Development Goal 6.1 aims to guarantee universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by the year 2030. A lot of work is needed in order to achieve this globally. You can help by finding out where your water comes from and supporting clean water activists, like Autumn Peltier of Canada and Georgie Badiel of Burkina Faso that advocate for clean water access and protect existing water sources, in your community and others around the world.

Think Further

  1. Think about some possible risks of having to travel far from your home to collect water any time you need it.
  2. What might be some challenges in teaching people how to use new technology?
  3. Imagine you are working for the WHO to increase awareness and spread knowledge about clean water and the risks of contamination in a water-scarce area. How would you spread your message? Where? How would you frame your message?

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Learn More

  1. Bravo, Oscar. “Cleaning Drinking Water for All.” Ted, Ted, Mar. 2018, https://www.ted.com/talks/oscar_bravo_clean_drinking_water_for_all. 
  2. Sengupta, Somini and Weiyi Cari. “A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 6 Aug. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/06/climate/world-water-stress.html. 
  3. McDonnel, Tim. “Report: There’s a Growing Water Crisis in the Global South.” NPR, NPR, 13 Aug. 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/08/13/750777462/report-theres-a-growing-water-crisis-in-the-global-south. 
  4. Piper, Karen. Price of Thirst: Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos. University of Minnesota Press, Sept. 2014.