Saturday, July 5, 2008

Clean Water is meant for Everyone

Amid the myriad of very real physical needs we are aware of in this world, why would safe drinking water be the need one chooses to financially help with? I believe the reason is that safe water goes beyond saving lives — it improves communities. And when there’s water for everyone, it even strengthens nations! When safe, clean water is provided as a part of proper community development programs, it has the potential to improve the health of a community to such a degree that people are able to work or attend school more consistently, uninterrupted by diseases caused by unsafe water. This means that entire communities will have greater opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty that prevents them from pursuing a more hopeful future. In this way, safe, clean water releases hope as well as quenching thirst.

The situation is critical. As many as 1 billion people in the world must drink unsafe drinking water (ISERP, Columbia University, Spring 2005). Diarrhea, which is caused by unclean water and by inadequate sanitation 88% of the time (WHO, World Health Report 2002), is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.8 million people worldwide each year, 1.6 million (90%) of which are children under five – even though children under 5 constitute just 10% of the world’s population (World Resources Institute, EarthTrends, September 2005)! That’s approximately 4,400 children dying from a preventable disease everyday... one child every 20 seconds.

Good health is among the most valuable assets the poor possess, but it’s the poor who suffer the most health problems associated with unsafe water. Those earning less than $1/day —which happens to be about 1.1 billion people (World Resources Institute, EarthTrends, December 2005) – are nearly 10 times more likely to have health problems related to unsafe water than those earning a mere $2/day in much of the developing world. And experts estimate that nearly half (46%) of workplace productivity lost to ill health in the developing world is attributable to unsafe water and hygiene (World Resources Institute, EarthTrends, September 2005). “Having a household member fall ill can destroy a poor family’s standard of living. Household and village-level studies show that the illness of a key income-earner is one of the leading causes of a household's decline into abiding poverty... The immediate loss of income is only the start: health bills can mount quickly and create an urgent need for cash, and since the poor possess few liquid assets that can be used for such emergencies, they may have to sell land or items central to sustaining their livelihoods… One common coping strategy is to pull children out of school and send them to work, depriving them of training they will need in the future to keep themselves out of poverty” (World Resources Institute, EarthTrends, September 2005).

It’s encouraging to know though, that health improvements “from a 50% reduction in the number of people without access to safe drinking water would result in an extra 272 million school attendance days and 320 million productive work days each year in the developing world – resulting in major economic and social benefits” (WHO UNICEF, 2005 (from “Turn on the Tap” literature, Samaritan’s Purse)).

Many relief and community development agencies are working with water filter technology that is sustain
able in the developing world, and they are gradually giving more and more people access to safe drinking water. They simply need the funds to continue this work. One that I heartily recommend is Samaritan's Purse and their "Turn on the Tap" program.

© 2008 by Ken Peters


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your blog posting and was happy to see you were able to draw on some EarthTrends data sets.

We have a Facebook group, called simply 'EarthTrends', that you are welcome to join if you'd like to crosspost your blog there.

All the best,
Jack Warner
EarthTrends, World Resources Institute

Anonymous said...

Good post - of all the environmental concerns that countries face, the lack of adequate water of good quality for drinking or agriculture is most serious.

In addition to the data presented by EarthTrends, World Resources Institute explores the Water Market in the report "The Next 4 Billion: Market Size and Business Strategy at the Base of the Pyramid".

WRI and Acumen Fund's water topic area continues the discussion by examining strategies that allow poor people to maximize the value of the water that is available to them.

Also, WRI recently partnered with JP Morgan to produce the report Watching Water: a Guide to Evaluating Corporate Risks in a Thirsty World.

Keep up the good work!

Best regards,

Laura Lee Dooley
World Resources Institute

Ken said...

Wow! I never thought I'd hear from EarthTrends and WRI on my blog! Thanks for the positive feedback.