Water Woes: Global Challenges for Sustainable Water Sources

How many times a day do you need clean water? Do you brush your teeth in the morning? Maybe you boil an egg for breakfast, or just wash out your mug for a fresh cup of hot tea. Do you take a hot shower? Are you wearing a freshly laundered pair of pants?

These are luxuries many people enjoy every day, without realizing how unexpected it would be to turn the pipe in the bathroom and find discolored water gushing out, or none at all.

Since 1990, 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources, but 1.8 billion are still using a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated. For those 1.8 billion people, health risks are increased, and illnesses related to contaminated or inadequate water are very common in their communities. The harsh realities of this issue include children dying of dehydration and diarrhea, people being forced to use contaminated water to cook food and irrigate their fields, and illnesses being contracted, untreated, and shared among these communities.

This is a global issue: in the U.S. the Flint Water Crisis shocked many, showing that inadequte access to clean water is not only an issue in developing countries.

A major part of supplying sustainable and clean water is the efficiency of sanitation systems. 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines. The lack of toilet facilities worldwide is an issue that goes beyond just privacy or common decency. This situation increases the likelihood of open defecation, and therefore, fecal contamination. In India, open defecation is the only option for 300 million women and girls, whose livelihoods are then at risk. The seemingly simple task of relieving themselves become a life threatening ordeal, where they are at risk of being raped, assaulted, or murdered. In addition to developing areas, refugee camps often lack the proper sanitation facilities. Often, there are either not enough or not any clean facilities.

Other times, communities’ water resources are inadequate because of unsanitary waste practices. Waste dumping into water resources such as rivers, lakes, and the ocean, can lead to contamination and sickness. For example, this is seen in places along the Ganges River, where religious tradition requires cremation of the dead, bathing, and drinking in the water of the river, and industrialization leads to chemical waste and pollution.

What’s being done about it?

Based in the United States, the BabyWASH Coalition is a group of organizations who have made it their goal to highlight the importance of access to clean water and sanitation in child and maternal health, especially directly following childbirth.

Companies like Vestergaard have used technology to create innovative solutions for providing access to clean water. While their LifeStraw Program allows people to ingest clean water through a water-filtering straw, it is a great short term solution, and raises awareness to encourage sustainable, long term solutions.

WAKA is an in-home water purification system being distributed in Nigeria, where getting water for the family in rural areas is often the responsibility of the women and girls of the household. Accessibility to clean water at home promotes sustainable energy, women and youth empowerment and socio-economic development.

eWaterPay addresses the issues that arise when water systems in rural Africa break because they are not maintained and not sustainable. Their water resources come with a maintenance requirement, and therefore an employment opportunity in the villages where they are installed. Using monetary policies, they ensure that water is not wasted, it is affordable, and their system contributes by helping the growing economy of the area.

UN Water has created many initiatives and highlighted problems and solution in addressing the global water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) issues, but here’s what you can do to help:

- Invest in a reusable water bottle to reduce plastic waste

- Support companies like LifeStraw (For each LifeStraw you purchase, one school child in a developing community receives safe drinking water for an entire school year) and Gululu, a company that sells hi-tech water bottles for kids and has announced it will also be building wells in underprivileged communities around the world.

- Reduce your water waste by using less running water

- No waste dumping (in the ocean, or the drain!)

- Share this article to raise awareness about SDG 6

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