One of the most serious consequences of poverty is lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation. The United Nations estimates that 2.6 billion people around the world, most of whom survive on less than $2 a day, life in unsatisfactory sanitary conditions.
Water and Growth:
Access to clean water helps economic growth, while lack of clean water decreases growth.
This, in conjunction with bad water, leads to the wildfire spread of many infectious diseases and greatly increases diarrhea among children. Potable, or drinkable, water and clean waste-disposal systems are essential to bringing families out of poverty: clean drinking water has been shown to enhance economic growth in developing countries, while unsafe drinking water severely hampers it. Water-borne diseases often force children to stay home from school and decrease economic production in households, making it difficult to overcome poverty.
The World Bank’s ‘Water Security, Growth and Development Report’ sums it up: “Water security [guaranteed access to safe water] is achieved when water underpins economic growth, rather than undermining it – or, in other words, when the net impact of water on growth is positive. The tipping point in achieving water security will be the acquisition of a ‘minimum platform’ of management capacity and infrastructure investment.” Ian Johnson, of the World Bank Sustainable Development division, expands on this: “Below the minimum platform, water obstructs growth overall, above the minimum platform water enhances growth overall.” In other words, better sanitation leads to more economic growth which leads to less poverty.
Millions of people around the world lack access to clean drinking water.
Clean water is the main ingredient for good sanitation. Contaminated water carries bacteria that causes pneumonia, diarrhea, and other respiratory and infectious diseases. Every two minutes, a child dies from drinking bad water. In many developing areas, there simply isn’t enough clean water to go around: people must choose whether to use it to wash, cook, or drink.
Fortunately, there are many solutions to this problem, both short- and long-term. With proper education, almost anyone can construct a makeshift water filter with basic household items (see Water Filters in Nepal). Pre-made water filters are another option. In Denmark, the Vestergaard Frandsen Group created the ‘LifeStraw,’ which is a small, portable, easy-to use water filter that can clean most harmful bacteria and chemicals out of water. It can provide a year’s supply of water for one person. Best of all, it costs only $2.
While these short-term solutions are useful, many water programs work to create longer lasting methods for generating clean water. Goal #7 of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals aims, among other things, to “reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.” Non-governmental organizations such as CARE have worked in villages for decades to create clean water and sanitation systems. CARE estimates that it has supplied 10 million people across the world with access to clean water since it began its sanitation program in the 1950s.
Water Filters in Nepal
In rural Nepal, 40% of the water supply is contaminated by dangerous compounds such as arsenic (which can lead to cancer).
While access to clean water is an essential part of good sanitation, good personal hygiene and clean disposal of human waste are also necessary. Often, impoverished individuals do not understand the importance of simple activities such as washing hands, cleaning food, brushing teeth, and disposing of waste.
Better sanitation measures and increased access to clean water are best attacked as a joint problem. Building water pipes and public restrooms (or even simple latrines) is a big step toward improving sanitation – only four out of ten rural Africans have access to clean latrines or toilets. These measures, however, must be monitored for quality or they may become good for nothing. In Sierra Leone, for example, a study found that around 35% of sanitation facilities were not working properly.
A simple pit latrine in Africa.
Distributing information on good personal hygiene is another proven method for promoting better sanitation in developing nations. The World Bank has used this approach heavily since the 1990s, with good results. It developed a ‘Handwashing Handbook’ and promoted good hygiene through songs, television, radio, and print ads, which improved sanitation in several African, Asia, and Latin American countries.
African ministers say clean water key to fighting poverty. 2005.
Bill and Melinda Gates Founation. 2005.
CARE USA: Water, Sanitation, and Environmental Health.
Engadget: LifeStraw purifies water instantly for under $2 a year. 2005.
Fighting Poverty With Clean Water, Sanitation And Hygiene. 2005.
Development Marketplace: Arsenic Biosand Water Filter for Rural Nepal. 2005.
DM 2003 Project Completion Report (PDF). 2005.
U.N. Millennium Development Goals. 2005.
Water and Sanitation.
Wikipedia: Personal Hygiene. 2006.
World Bank: Governments Urged to Improve Access to Water, Sanitation . 2006.