Wednesday, March 19, 2008

List #19: World Water Day - Importance of clean water and sanitation

World Water Day is scheduled for 20 March, so here's a list of the impact of water and sanitation on the lives of children.

While people in developed countries take water and sanitation for granted, for the 2.6 billion people on the planet, they seem like luxuries. When population density was light and rivers ran clear, people felt the supply of water was unlimited. From the Foreign Policy blog on Children, there are several post on the effect of lack of clean water and sanitation on children who are more susceptible to water-related problems:
1. water-borne: while agencies will often advise people to boil water, what happens when there are no nearby forests (because they have been cut down) and gas or charcoal is too expensive? People drink from unsafe sources when they are forced to. This leads to a variety of water-borne diseases which can leave people, especially children, malnourished and weak. Kids can't concentrate in school, parents can't work which may cause their children to drop out to contribute to family income. When people in developed countries think of diarrhea, they usually think of a short, uncomfortable condition. Many of these diarrheal diseases such as typhoidand cholera can lead to death or long-term disability.
2. water-washed: vegetables washed in unclean water can transmit infection.
3. water-based: probably refers to chemicals in the water. The Jilin chemical plant explosion and contamination of the Songhua River with benzene and other chemicals affected drinking water for millions of people. Benzene can lower white blood counts which prevents people's immune systems from fighting infections.
4. water-related insect vector: Malaria is a major killer of children. Epidemics of Dengue Fever, a mosquito-borne virus, affect thousands of children each year.
5. diseases caused by poor sanitation: There's a list on this blog page. It's not just diarrhea. Schistosomiasis, if not treated, can lead to cancer from chronically inflamed bile ducts. Typhoid lasts over several weeks - just when the abdominal upset and fever seem to get better, the intestines can perforate, leading to rapid death.

What can proper sanitation and hygiene do:
# Lower morbidity rates in the population.
# Lower mortality rates due to diarrhea.
# Better nutrition among children.
# Cleaner environment.
# Safer food and increased impact of improved water supplies.
# Better learning and retention among school children.
# Dignity and privacy, especially women and girls.

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