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Global Water Poverty: How Can We Help?

By Reza Waloewandja

Water is one of the most essential resources that allows life to prosper. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council recognized that it is an international human right to have access to safe drinking water [1]. However, water poverty has become a growing global issue that has severely impacted human health, especially in children. Water poverty, also known as water stress, is defined as a situation where a nation or region does not have access to clean and sustainable water for all people at all times [2]. The most water-stressed regions in the world can be found in the Middle East and in North Africa to which twelve of the top 17 most water-stressed countries are found [3]. 

Without clean water, many people have had to resort to polluted waters for their everyday needs or have had to travel vast distances. Every day, women in water-stressed regions spend 200 million hours walking to collect water for their families while also traveling an average of 3.7 miles [4]. Even with these efforts, the water that they obtain can still hold various pollutants and unwanted substances. Through the usage of contaminated waters, millions of people have died from preventable water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid [4]. Children under the age of five are the most susceptible to this problem as 1 in 5 deaths are due to water-related diseases [5]. Developing sustainable solutions and efficient strategies will allow more accessibility to clean water will ultimately mitigate the effects of this crisis as well as protect millions from using contaminated waters and dying from preventable diseases.

The Cause of Water Poverty

One of the main causes of global water poverty is the increase of pollution in low-income countries. The rapid rise of these countries’ populations has sequentially allowed for more waste to be more prominent. The demand for goods from the surging populations has put a significant demand for industries and farming (typically rainfed agriculture). These have caused things such as untreated wastewater, fertilizer, and pesticides to be washed into their water sources [7]. They release large quantities of sediments, organic matter, and fertilizers into the local water supplies leading to eutrophication, which is when a water body is enriched with excessive amounts of nutrients that cause toxic algae to grow [8].

Climate change is another major contributor to global water poverty. Extreme temperatures and sea-level changes in water-stressed areas have threatened human health and safety as well as food and water security. This is due to their geographical location of being near the equator. It results in tragedies such as droughts, increased water-related diseases, and many more [9]. The reduction of their local water supplies forces them to use the water resource that is most available. As a result, they use water that is more prone to pollution as thousands of others have had to resort to the same supply. 

The effects of global water poverty

When water becomes scarce, the environment will begin to degrade. To have a thriving and healthy ecosystem, the environment relies on a complex web of animals, plants, bacteria, and fungi which all have a direct and indirect influence on each other [10]. When one factor becomes diminished, it will cause a chain reaction to the entire ecosystem. When you take clean water out of an ecosystem, most plants and animals cannot live in these types of areas, causing the lands to become barren and dry. Subsequently, communities can no longer live there and are forced to move away or have to resort to traveling long distances for resources.

The lack of  clean water has also been detrimental to people’s health. Nearly 1 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related diseases which could have been prevented or reduced with access to safe water [11]. Having clean and safe drinking water is also crucial in the development of a healthy child. The surge of the human population in low-income countries has caused the population to be skewed towards children under the age of 10 [12]. It has resulted in a child dying every 2 minutes from water-borne diseases [11] This illustrates how crucial it is for access to clean and safe water for everyone, especially the children. Without it, future generations will not be able to grow up properly and will have many setbacks that will keep this crisis as a continuous trend.

Few Solutions to this problem

Creating and executing a plan to fight water poverty will be essential for the lives of millions of people. Constructing new water wells and rehabilitating old ones is one effective way to get clean water in water-stressed regions. Each well gets water from underground aquifers and can serve approximately 2,000 people and can last up to 20 years if maintained properly [13]. However, communities must take care of their wells because they can get easily contaminated. Protecting these wells from outside influences will allow them to preserve their clean water supply and will reduce the number of water-borne diseases that occur.

Another solution is to protect and develop wetlands. Wetlands are areas that include marshes, swamps, and bogs that have the ability to filter out pollutants from contaminated waters and can naturally improve the water quality for consumption. They also provide habitat and food for a diverse array of plants and animals [14]. However, they have been rapidly decreasing due to many factors which include; excessive nutrients in the water and land-use change [15]. Preserving wetlands can provide a source of clean water for water-stress countries and create a healthy ecosystem in which animals, plants, and humans can thrive.

What we can do to help

We can help by informing more people of the rising crisis of water poverty. Many people do not know that water poverty is a problem globally and informing them will allow them to become more aware and hopefully inspire them to help. With attention to this issue, we can further educate communities in water-stressed regions about the effects that they have on the environment. Some do not know that their actions are directly related to the problems that have risen in their regions. Further developing our knowledge and awareness of water poverty will allow us to help shape and create a better ecosystem and environment for people to live in.

Citations

  1. “Human Rights to Water and Sanitation.” United Nations, http://www.unwater.org/water-facts/human-rights/. Accessed 10 June 2021
  2. Feitelson, Eran, and Jonathan Chenoweth. “Water Poverty: towards a Meaningful Indicator.” Water Policy, vol. 4, no. 3, 24 Feb. 2002, pp. 263–281., doi:10.1016/s1366-7017(02)00029-6. 
  3. Hofste, Rutger Willem, et al. “17 Countries, Home to One-Quarter of the World’s Population, Face Extremely High Water Stress.” World Resources Institute, 6 Aug. 2019, http://www.wri.org/insights/17-countries-home-one-quarter-worlds-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress. 
  4. “Water.” World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa, World Health Organization, http://www.afro.who.int/health-topics/water. Accessed 10 June 2021
  5. Reid, Kathryn. “Walk for Water: Your 6K vs. Theirs.” World Vision, 19 Mar. 2020, http://www.worldvision.org/clean-water-news-stories/walk-water-6k. Accessed 10 June 2021
  6. “The Water Crisis: The Importance of Clean Water to Health.” The Water Project, thewaterproject.org/why-water/health. Accessed 10 June 2021
  7. Wang, Hongtao, et al. “Water and Wastewater Treatment in Africa – Current Practices and Challenges.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 26 Nov. 2013, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/clen.201300208.
  8. “What Causes Water Pollution In Africa?” The Last Well, 28 June 2019, thelastwell.org/2019/06/what-causes-water-pollution-in-africa/. 
  9. Martin, Richard. “Climate Change: Why the Tropical Poor Will Suffer Most.” MIT Technology Review, 17 June 2015, http://www.technologyreview.com/2015/06/17/167612/climate-change-why-the-tropical-poor-will-suffer-most/. 
  10. Denchak, Melissa. “Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, 14 May 2018, http://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know. 
  11. “Effects Of The Water Crisis On Health.” Water.org, water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/health-crisis/. Accessed 10 June 2021
  12. Rallis, Donald. “Pyramids in the Middle East.” Regional GeogBlog, 14 Feb. 2011, regionalgeography.org/101blog/?p=1830. 
  13. “Ways To Get Clean Water In Africa.” The Last Well, 24 May 2019, thelastwell.org/2019/05/ways-to-get-clean-water-in-africa/. 
  14. “Wetlands.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, epa.gov/report-environment/wetlands#:~:text=Pollutants%20in%20ground%20water%20and,add%20stress%20to%20remaining%20wetlands. Accessed 10 June 2021
  15. “Wetlands: a Global Disappearing Act.” Ramsar, http://www.ramsar.org/sites/default/files/documents/library/factsheet3_global_disappearing_act_0.pdf.  Accessed 10 June 2021

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