Though water is the body’s principal chemical component the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 1.1 billion people lack access to a potable water source. In addition, approximately 2.6 billion people – half the population of the developing world – do not have access to even a simple latrine. While this raises concerns regarding quality of life and lack of resources in general, individuals who do not have access to clean drinking water and sanitation services are at an increased risk of contracting diarrheal illnesses, including cholera. Though these conditions are easily treated, the regions where they are most prevalent frequently also do not have the necessary medications. By increasing awareness about ways to improve the availability of safe water and sanitation services, it may be possible to reduce transmission and infection rates.
Reports indicate that each year the deaths of 1.6 million people – approximately 90 percent of them children under five years of age – are due to diarrheal illnesses that can be attributed to a lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The WHO defines “basic sanitation” as “the lowest-cost technology ensuring hygienic excreta and sullage disposal.” Further, individuals are said to have “access to drinking water” – “drinking water” defined by the WHO as “water which is used for domestic purposes, drinking, cooking and personal hygiene” – if they are within 1 kilometer of a source that can reliably produce 20 liters per household member per day. According to Siemens, more than a billion people worldwide currently survive on only 3.8 liters (one gallon) of water per day, though experts suggest an intake of approximately 1.5 liters per day.
According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, over the past decade, the number of individuals living in urban areas who lack access to drinking water in their home or the immediate vicinity has increased by an estimated 114 million, while the number who lack access to basic sanitation facilities has risen by 134 million. An estimated 51 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo have no access to safe drinking water, and between 30 and 60 percent of the urban population of sub-Saharan Africa has no access to the municipal water supply. In these and other regions worldwide where access to potable water and sanitation services are limited, individuals may employ alternative methods of purifying water, such as boiling, chemical disinfection, and filtration. While these methods offer an effective means of generating a supply of safe drinking water, the quality of water used in farming is also critical, as water-borne pathogens on crops can cause diseases such as typhoid and cholera.
Both governmental agencies and non-profit organizations have established initiatives aimed at increasing the availability of water, purifying existing water sources, and improving sanitation services worldwide. By ensuring that safe water is available for consumption and farming, and that sanitation services are sufficient, the transmission of water-borne illnesses can be mitigated. In addition, providing individuals in regions facing shortages of potable water with information about water purification options and treatments for cholera and other diarrheal illnesses can improve the healthcare infrastructure in these areas.
Discuss this and other public health topics in the iCons in Medicine forums