Water in Focus – Not Just a Third-World Problem

Water in Focus – Not Just a Third-World Problem

A large number of the world’s population lacks access to clean water. The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the United States Census Bureau, all agree that 663 million people globally, roughly one in ten, lack access to safe water. Even though it’s usually seen as a “third world” problem, assess to clean water is rapidly becoming a truly global issue.

Known causes

Municipal governments have been known to intentionally poison water supplies. This is leaving the water in some developed nations contaminated by carcinogenic compounds, chemicals,additives, and pollutants. The rapid decline in water quality in Flint, Michigan also paints a picture of staggering inaccessibility to water that humanity is facing, no matter where we live.

Crumbling infrastructure, bureaucratic mismanagement of funds, environmental disasters, refugee migrations, outright lack of development in slum areas, and even lack of knowledge of basic sanitation principles, are all leaving large segments of the global population without access to potable water.

Who’s at risk?

Certain age segments of the population are at increased risk of infection from contaminated water. Infants, the sick, and the elderly are at greatest risk from local contaminated water. Harm can reach us wherever we live, and at any age. The health of the elderly especiallycan decline even while living and receiving assisted care support in their own homes in many of these affected communities.

Contaminated water can pass along everything from debilitating and deadly diseases, to infections like conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye), even after swimming in heavily chlorinated water like public pools.

The constant increase in population is also putting extreme pressure on our valued and rapidly depleting freshwater resources. And the majority of population growthis expected in developing territories - areas which are already facing a devastating water situation.

Unfortunately, a large number of people are already using and consuming contaminated water, either because of their lack of knowledge, or because they don’t have any safer options. They primarily use this water to fulfill their own requirements. And also use contaminated water for purposes like cultivation - further selling their produce in the market. This water, and contaminated products and foods, then pushes the dangers forward to an even larger population. These dangers cause diseases which take a terrible toll on human health and other resources.

Types of water-related diseases

This world’s most significant health problems are all water related. The most unfortunate part is that majority of these issues are preventable. Cholera and diarrhea alone claim 1.8 million lives every year. Water borne illnesses also keep a large population from the under-developed and developing parts of the world from adequate education and opportunities to work.

In the developing world, the cumulative effect of water-related disease stifles economic growth and stresses healthcare systems that are already overloaded.

Let’s take a closer look at the four major types of water-related diseases:

Waterborne diseases

Waterborne diseases spread by drinking contaminated water, or using contaminated water to prepare food. The most common waterborne diseases are: typhoid, cholera, dysentery, gastroenteritis, and hepatitis. These diseases are spreadwhen human and animal wastes enter in the water.

Some waterborne diseases are diarrheal diseases, which include cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis. Apart from diarrhea, they can also cause weight loss, fever, cramps, nausea, and dehydration. As mentioned, these health issues can be life threatening for people who are already sick, have poor health, children, and the elderly.

Another dangerous waterborne disease is Cholera. This is caused by bacteria that spawn epidemic health problems mostly in developing regions of Asia and Africa. It can cause life threatening diarrhea.

Typhoid is another waterborne disease, affecting some 17 million people each year. Major symptoms of typhoid are: severe fever, malaise, headache, constipation or diarrhea, chest spotting and an enlarged liver and spleen.

Water-washed diseases

Poor personal hygiene cause water-washed diseases. Water-washed diseases can be easily cured if people have adequate amount of clean water and have the knowledge to stay clean.

One of the common water-washed diseases includes Shigella. Other diseases include,dysentery, scabies, trachoma, yaws, leprosy, conjunctivitis, skin infections and ulcers.

Scabies is a highly contagious skin infection, which can be identified by an extremely itchy rash of pimple-like markings that appear on hands, elbows, knees, and shoulders. It’s caused by a microscopic, skin-burrowing mite known as Sarcoptes scabei. If someone has scabies, they should immediately seek medical attention. Scratching its rash can cause open sores that may be infected by additional bacteria. It can easily be transferred through person-to-person contact. Some 300 million people contract the disease each year.

Additionally, the world’s foremost cause of preventable blindness is a water-washed disease – Trachoma. The cause is a pathogenic bacterium; it spreads easily from person-to-person through fluids discharged from infected eyes.

Water-based diseases

Water-based diseases are spread by aquatic organisms, such as worms. They can enter the body by consumption, or penetrate the skin if dirty water is used for cleaning and washing purposes.

Schistosomiasis is the world’s most destructive parasitic infection after malaria. This disease is caused by different species of flatworms, which can enter human skin to enter the body and lay eggs. It can also pass through infected human waste.

The major symptoms are itchy rashes, fever, and cough. It can lead to organ damage (bladder, liver, and kidneys)and nervous system impairment.

Water-related insect vector diseases

As the name suggests, water-related insect vector diseases are spread by insects. The carriers are mostly mosquitoes and black flies living in, or near, stagnant water. Water-related insect vector diseases include: malaria, yellow fever and river blindness.

Among all the water-related insect vector diseases, malaria is the most infamous disease. It is caused by parasites, and carried by mosquitoes, breeding in fresh or brackish water. When they bite a human, they inject malarial parasites and infect blood. Malarial parasites grow inside red blood cells and start destroying them. Symptoms of malaria include; fever, chills, headache, muscle ache, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and jaundice. If not treated adequately, it can even cause comas and kidney failure.

What we can do

Conventional methods of treatmentdo help in cleaning water; however, they’re mostly chemically and operationally intensive. In fact, some of these technologies even introduce harmful contaminants into the water system. For example, chlorine is being used in the USA to counter waterborne pathogens in old water-distribution systems. However, instead of being helpful, chlorine also aids in the formation of toxic by-products.

Modern development needs to address both the causes of water-linked diseases and also the problems caused by conventional methods used for water purification. This is being taken as a challenge by the social entrepreneurs, scientists, and relevant authorities. With adequate attention, resources, and time we can create solutions for disinfecting, decontaminating, and desalinating water without exposing it to man-made dangers and threats. 

About the author: James Smith is a survivalist, who loves to write about survival skills and techniques. He is a featured contributor at Natural News and you can follow him on twitter @jamessmith1609.
Image source: http://stocksnap.io/photo/HJ9QTYUA3I

Be part of the humanitarian aid and development community!

Register now to receive AIDF's newsletter with insights into latest trends, innovations and best practice in the humanitarian and development sectors