by Savitha C Muppala on  March 21, 2008 at 1:19 PM Health In Focus
World Water Day – 'Water and Sanitation for Life'
March 22, 2008

World Water Day falls on March 22nd every year. The theme this year is 'Water and Sanitation for Life'. It is also a time when the world takes stock of the looming water crisis, and confronts the 'watershed' issue- 'Is the world running out of water'?

As we grapple with matters pertaining to water, it brings us to the subject of water contamination. It is common knowledge that diarrhea, one of the greatest illnesses plaguing the teeming millions worldwide, causing many million deaths annually, is caused by poor sanitation and consumption of contaminated water.

According to Jon Lane, Executive Director- Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, 'Every 20 minutes we spend sitting in our offices, organizing meetings, passing resolutions and discussing policies, a child dies as a direct result of poor sanitation.'

This mammoth problem can be prevented only if the sanitation ills in the world are solved. It is for this reason that the year 2008 has been declared as the 'International year of Sanitation' and forms the theme for the World Water Day, 2008.

Amidst all the economic development and technological advances, it is a day that reminds us of the scores of women in different parts of the world, who tread great lengths, and spend many hours each day to collect water. The magnitude of the problem is palpable in the poignant documentary, 'One water', which is a realistic depiction of the impending water crisis threatening to consume the planet. Experts see it coming, that the greatest wars in the future will be over this precious, life sustaining resource - Water!

Seven Murky statistics About Water

• Safe drinking water, which forms the basis of life, is not available to about one billion people worldwide.

• A child loses its life every 15 seconds due to water - related diseases.

• 1.8 million in a year die due to diarrhea.

• 88 percent of all diseases in the world is due to poor sanitation.

• 2.6 billion people court disease due to abysmal sanitation.

• According to the WHO, 50% of the hospitalizations worldwide are due to water- related diseases.

• Poor sanitation is recognized as the greatest enemy, unleashing a trail of destruction worse than any war.

Objectives of World Water Day:

'The coming 12 months provides us with a platform to prioritize sanitation on the international community's agenda.' -UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon

The World Water Day initiatives will seek to iron out the challenges for access to safe water and proper sanitation on a world-wide basis. This is proposed to be carried out by the following measures:

1. Ensuring that the world's poorest have access to the basic amenities of safe water and sanitation.

2. Implementing strategies on water conservation and re-use

3. Developing of sustainable and economically viable water and sanitation facilities worldwide.

4. Focusing on issues pertaining to school sanitation.

Gaping Hole

Water and sanitation are two sides of the same coin, and are indispensable for national health.

Globally, the progress made in sanitation is patchy. While some regions like East Asia, Latin America, some of the Arab states, and the Caribbean have shown remarkable progress, certain parts of South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa have a long way to go. According to reports, China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nigeria are among the worst sanitized nations in the world.

In certain parts of Nigeria, close to 1% of people live in homes without sewerage connection. Almost 14% of rural India do not have toilet facilities or cannot boast of a latrine in their homes. When the basic facility of a toilet or latrine is unavailable, people tend to defecate in open spaces, using the water available locally from streams or lakes to clean themselves. Infection causing germs breed in the dirty water, and when people use this contaminated water for cleaning and bathing, infections spread. Contaminated water spreads serious diseases like typhoid, cholera and dysentery.

Despite such astounding facts, there is a great reticence in dealing with human waste and its proper disposal. Therefore, 'sanitation' is avoided like a 'dirty word', and there is not much discussion about it in prominent public debates.

Mr. Toilet's Goal

Sim Jae-Duck, President of the World Toilet Association, fondly called 'Mr. Toilet', came into the spotlight after pulling Korea out of its sanitation crisis. His passion for providing the basic toilet or latrine to one and all is epitomized in the architectural model of his residence, which resembles a huge closet.

Armed with ingenious strategies to find a solution to the sanitation issues plaguing the world, Mr.Sim Jae-Duck, said 'Worldwide 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases, mainly attributable to unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation and poor hygienic practices. The idea is to bring to the notice of leaders that however much they try to tackle the issue of sanitation, and however much they try to reduce the number of people without sanitation, the goal will remain elusive and the eradication of disease a mammoth task, if people do not have access to proper toilets. It is about time the world community recognized this as a global agenda instead of brushing it aside as a triviality.'

Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who is chairperson of the U.N. Secretary General's advisory board on water and sanitation, said, 'The AIDS pandemic has led to frank talk about unprotected sex and the use of condoms. It is our responsibility to promote the same sort of open discussion about hygiene and the safe disposal of human excreta.'

The time is ripe for a sanitation revolution.

Every Drop Counts

Nearly two-fifths of the people world-wide are grappling with water shortages. While it is impossible to increase the world's fresh water supplies, the only way out is to share and use it judiciously.

About 70% of the water in the world is used for agriculture, and it is here that innovative irrigation methods could prevent wastage. Additionally, consumers must be educated to use water in a responsible manner. According to surveys conducted, water wastage occurs on a daily basis in homes. It is estimated that the mere act of closing the water tap while brushing the teeth, instead of allowing the water to flow, (which is the common practice) amounts to a saving of 5 to 10 gallons per day for an average family. Attaching devices that save water in faucets and shower heads is also a good idea to avoid wastage.

Some countries have begun exploring the benefits of water treatment, where 'gray water', the water from washing dishes and clothes is treated for reuse. 'Black water', which is water from the sewage, is also being treated for its use in gardening. Desalinization has been around for sometime, but is a costly treatment method, employing high energy and leaving huge amounts of brine for disposal.

Water and Sanitation for Life

Providing safe drinking water and enabling proper methods to aid human waste disposal will have the greatest impact on national health.

In order to have a large- scale impact, it is important to ensure that the world's poorest have access to the basic amenities of safe water and sanitation and also to streamline the financial issues pertaining to water and sanitation services. A partnership between governments and private sector is imperative to get the water and sanitation problems on track.

Additionally, awareness and education can go a long way in establishing the practice of good sanitation and hygiene. Improving sanitation at the grassroots, adopting innovative technology to treat water and employing water conservation strategies may be a three-pronged approach to carry the water and sanitation goals forward.

Water and oxygen are two essential elements that can create life. Planet Earth is currently facing a crisis of water and the world community has to rise to resolve this crisis before it takes a nasty turn and turns into global war.

'Water is life's matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.' Albert Szent-Gyorgyi quotes (Hungarian Biochemist, 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine, 1893-1986).

Source: Medindia

Most Popular on Medindia