The True Value of Safe Water: World Water Day
Safe Water is much more important than its Cost
How valuable is safe water to you? You may take it for granted, especially if you’ve never tried living without it. But how about for those people who have to walk miles just to fetch some decent water? World Water Day reminds us of the true value of safe water in our households, for the realization of education, for our country’s economy, for the production of our food, and for the rendering of health care services.
Water Safety and Ease of Access
There is a huge disparity regarding water safety and ease of access between first-world and third-world countries. Due to substantial developments in their infrastructure and economy, first-world countries enjoy the most reliable and safest water supply. Among the first-world countries, the United States of America may have the best public water systems. They have about 150,000 public water systems that provide drinking water to almost 90% of their residents. This is all because they have the economic power to fund these water systems. Aside from that, they have the Safe Drinking Water Act which was enacted in 1974; legislation that aims to protect public health through the installation and regulation of public water systems. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Eritrea, a country in northeast Africa may have the worst public water systems. Despite having an average annual rainfall of 16 to 20 inches, around 80% of their residents don’t have access to safe and reliable water. Although first-world countries are enjoying reliable and safe water today, they are not exempt from the troubling future that awaits us. We must start water conservation as early as now, that we may avoid a global water crisis in the future.
Water a Limited Resource
Water is an essential resource for any living organism. For a planet to become habitable, water must be present. Unfortunately, water is a finite resource. Of the 1.4 billion cubic kilometres of water present on Earth, only 0.01 percent, around 1.4 million cubic kilometres, are available for human use. To make matters worse, this limited resource is under a lot of pressure due to our ever-increasing population. As of March 2020, the world population reached 7.8 billion. According to a US study, each person consumes about 4500 gallons of water per day. This number includes the amount of water needed to grow their food, the amount of water for drinking, and the amount of water needed for cleaning and hygiene. 4500 gallons of water is equivalent to 17 cubic meters or 1.7x10-10 cubic kilometres of water. Multiply this by 7.8 billion, we get 1.326 million cubic kilometres of water. This may be an overestimation because the average water consumption per person per day is based on a US study. Still, this demonstrates just how limited our water resource is. If we carry on with this unsustainable way of living, even the most water-secure countries may face a terrible water shortage in the near future.
The Value of Safe Water in our Households
To appreciate the true value of safe water in our households, one must imagine what our day-to-day activities would be like if we don’t have access to reliable, clean and safe water. Imagine not being able to take a shower before going to work, not being able to wash the dishes, prepare breakfast, etc. The value of safe water in our households is not apparent. It is only when we don’t have access to it that we realize just how precious it is.
“Safe water” in the context of domestic usage varies on the activity. For drinking water, the guidelines for microbiological safety would be more strict as waterborne pathogens are most likely to enter the human body through the mouth. For the same reason, water used for washing the dishes should have minimal microbial contamination. In certain cases, water that is non-potable due to its microbial load is acceptable for bathing. Any pathogen present in the non-potable water wouldn’t enter the mouth. Thus, it does not cause any disease. It is also acceptable to use non-potable water for washing clothes and for cleaning the car. Essentially, if a shortage of safe water were to occur globally, people would find it difficult to meet their daily drinking water requirements.
The Value of Safe Water for Education
As Horace Mann, the pioneer of American public schools in the 19th century, once said, “Education is the great equalizer of the conditions of men”, and according to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, education is a human right. Education is a vital aspect of our life. Through education, we become equipped with the skills, knowledge, and attitude we need to have a greater chance of succeeding in life. Yet education can be hampered by various factors, one of which is the lack of access to safe drinking water.
Children living in communities that rely on unsafe water are more likely to fall ill. They are more likely to fall prey to gastrointestinal diseases. According to a journal from the Royal Society of Medicine, children who are frequently ill would experience a slowing down of their cognitive development. If children in vulnerable communities are often sick, they would miss classes often as well. Not only that, their frequent sickness slows down the development of their brain. This just goes to show how important safe water is for the realization of education.
The Value of Safe Water for Food Production
What happens when the production and handling of food products involve the usage of microbiologically unsafe water? Outbreaks of salmonellosis, enterohemorrhagic E. coli infections, and other gastrointestinal diseases caused by microbial pathogens have been linked to the consumption of fresh produce like lettuce, cabbage, and more. Investigations conducted on the fresh produce revealed that they were grown using water that is contaminated with microbial pathogens. In other cases, the fresh produce was washed or cleaned with water that contains microbial pathogens. If the practice of using contaminated water in the production and handling of food products continues. The world would experience more outbreaks of diseases.
To remedy this problem, those responsible for producing food must be wary of the quality of the water that they are using. Besides that, we cannot afford to continue with the liberal usage of water in the food production and agricultural sector since most of the humans’ water consumption comes from them. With that said, safe water is precious for food production.
The Value of Safe Water for Health Care Services
WASH is an initiative initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in association with United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) which aims to provide access to reliable and safe water for sanitation, health care waste management, hygiene, and environmental cleaning in health care facilities. Both the WHO and UNICEF have recognized the value of water within the context of health care. Availability of water in health care facilities is essential for the realization of the core universal health care principles of quality, equity, and dignity for all people. Without addressing this basic need, health care facilities simply cannot operate efficiently. For example, if a health care facility is severely lacking in acceptable handwashing water; then it is highly likely that there would be several incidents where health care providers would handle patients without washing their hands.
Although it is hard to accept, lack of water within health care facilities is a reality for most low-income countries. The problem persists because to remedy such a problem would require an immense portion of their budget. It is estimated that a billion people throughout the world are affected by the lack of water by their immediate health care facility. This lack of water translates to poor hand hygiene and ultimately leads to poor health care services.
The lack of water in the health care facilities in vulnerable countries is observable. Aside from that, the effect of this inadequacy is also apparent. In low-income countries, their health care facilities are three times more likely to be inadequate concerning access to safe water compared to high-income countries. Moreover, the occurrence of maternal sepsis in low-income countries is twice as high compared to high-income countries. We could therefore infer that the lack of access to safe water can cause the deterioration of the quality of healthcare. The inverse is also true when a healthcare facility has access to safe water. They can provide better care for their patients.
From Water Security to Insecurity: War Stories in Ukraine
What is it like to be water-secure one day and then suddenly become water-insecure? For the families caught in the Russo-Ukrainian war, this is their reality. For some communities in Eastern Ukraine, the tap has stopped running for more than seven years. Residents of the village of Pishchevik are dependent on the water trucks that bring water to the community from a neighbouring city. The same situation can be observed in the town of Mariinka in the Donetsk region. People would queue up in lines to collect water from the water trucks. Worst still, these water trucks may not turn up at times due to shelling.
The value of safe water is evident. We must not let our present situation dissuade us from taking action towards sustainable water usage. Always remember that water is a precious but finite resource that if not used wisely may become unavailable in the future.