Today, the 22nd March is an international day set aside to bring global attention to the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. There are still over 884 million people in the world living without access to a safe and accessible supply of water and a staggering 2.2billion without some form of safe sanitation. This year, the world water day places attention on the need to ensure that water is available in an appropriate quantity and at an acceptable quality.
What is the point in providing water in abundance which is unsafe to drink?
Water and sanitation go hand in hand. Without the safe disposal of our poo, potentially deadly faecal matter can contaminate water supplies and food. Where safe water supply is limited diseases such as typhoid, Cholera and shigella can be deadly, with children under 5 most vulnerable. An estimated 1.5million children under the age of 5 die every year from preventable diarrhoeal diseases.
It’s not only a lack of sanitation that is affecting water quality. Increasingly chemical contamination is being identified within drinking waters. In the 1990’s Arsenic hit the headlines in many countries in Asia, whether a result of new tubewells, increased abstraction, or increased use of fertilisers, arsenic was causing arsenicosis, a cancer which affected 85million people in Bangladesh alone (affecting more than ½ of the total population). As a result of arsenic testing and awareness campaigns rolled out through local governments and NGOs, communities are able to identify safe water or implement low cost arsenic removal technologies. However, something of increasing concern is showing its wrath in many rapidly developing countries.
Chemical pollution from industries is contaminating ground and surface waters making them unsafe for consumption. From firsthand experience, I have seen how with little other choice, communities are often forced to drink waters contaminated with heavy metals from tanneries and pharmaceuticals. The clean-up requirements are complex and costs are disproportionate, beyond the capacity of local governments and local communities.
The continuing chemical pollution by industries continues to leave its legacy on vulnerable and vital surface and groundwater sources making then unsafe for consumption.
This morning I attended the Worlds Longest Queue at Westminster, an event organised by the international coalition End Water Poverty Campaign. 51 countries across the world broke the Guinness World Record for the World’s Longest Toilet Queue – it is hoped that this will encourage Gordon Brown to demonstrate continued leadership to tackle the sanitation and water crisis at the high level meeting on water and sanitation in Washington next month.
Water and sanitation are so critical, as not only are they directly related to health, they also underpin so many other important issues from education to maternal and child health to economic growth.
If you didn’t make the queue but want to show your support please sign up to the petition on http://www.worldtoiletqueue.org
Happy World Water Day!