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By Enie Ndoh Cecile - USA

Water is essential for life. Between seventy and seventy- five percent (70-75 %) of the earth surface is covered with water and roughly seventy percent (70%) of the human body is made up of water. Water is not only a utility, it is a human right as declared on November 26, 2002 due to registering concern over the continuing contamination, depletion and unequal distribution of water resources.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights meeting in Geneva on November 26, 2002 issued a declaration stating that access to water is a human right and that water is a public commodity fundamental to life and health. The declaration, adopted by the Committee as a “General Comment”, also stipulates that water, like health, is an essential element for achieving other human rights, especially the rights to adequate food and nutrition, housing and education.

Unfortunately, water being essential for life is equally responsible for high mortality rates, hence a global cause for concern. Going by environmental facts, water pollution, unsafe water, poor sanitation and unhygienic environment causes millions of people to die or suffer needlessly from diseases, especially children in the developing world. As such, water and sanitation diseases despite being preventable remain one of the most significant child health problems worldwide. Koffi Annan’s Millennium Report as UN Secretary General stated that, ‘no single measure would do more to reduce diseases and safe lives in the developing world than bringing safe water and adequate sanitation to all’.

Although some kinds of water pollution can occur through natural processes, it is mostly as a result of human activities. According to recent Water Facts by Water Partners International (WPI), a person needs four to five (4-5) gallons of water per day to survive. But then, the average American individual uses one hundred to one hundred and seventy –six (100- 176) gallons of water at home each day while the average African family uses about five (5) gallons of water each day. More so, poor people in the slums often pay five – ten (5-10) times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city.

Statistics by Water Partners International shows that – Each year more than five (5) million people die from water-related disease. Thirty percent (30%) of water-related deaths are due to diarrhea. Eighty- four percent (84%) of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 – 14. Ninety- eight percent (98%) of water-related deaths occur in the developing world. How ever, for the first time, the number of people without improved drinking water has dropped below one billion.

With regards to sanitation WPI states that, lack of sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection. As a result only sixty- two (62) percent of the world’s population has access to improved sanitation – that is, a sanitation facility that ensures hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. Of the sixty (60) million people added to the world’s towns and cities every year, most occupy impoverished slums and shanty-towns with no facilities. As such, two point five (2.5) billion people still lack access to improved sanitation, including one point two (1.2) billion people who still have no facilities at all.
The majority of the illness in the world is caused by fecal matter (solid excretory product evacuated from the bowels)
At any one time, more than half the poor of the developing world are ill from causes related to hygiene, sanitation and water supply.
Eighty-eight percent of cases of diarrhea worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene. Apparently, two point five (2.5) billion people live on less than US $2 a day meanwhile two point six (2.6) billion people are without sanitation.

2008 was the International Year of Sanitation. Its five key messages were: 1) Sanitation is vital for human health, 2) Sanitation generates economic benefits, 3) Sanitation contributes to dignity and social development, 4) Sanitation helps the environment, and 5) Sanitation is achievable.

Intrinsically, these absurd global crises have an impact on kids, women, health and productivity.

Impacts on Kids – Every fifteen (15) seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease. Children in poor environments often carry one thousand (1000) parasitic worms in their bodies at any time. For children under age five, water-related diseases are the leading cause of death. One point eight (1.8) million Children die each year from diarrhea – four thousand nine hundred (4,900) deaths each day.

Impacts on Women - Millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources.
Lack of toilets makes women and girls vulnerable to violence if they are forced to defecate only after nightfall and in secluded areas. Sanitation enhances dignity, privacy and safety, especially for women and girls. Schools with decent toilet facilities enable children, especially girls reaching puberty, to remain in the educational system.
A study by the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) of community water and sanitation projects in 88 communities found that projects designed and run with the full participation of women are more sustainable and effective than those that do not. This supports an earlier World Bank study that found that women’s participation was strongly associated with water and sanitation project effectiveness.
Evidence shows that women are responsible for half of the world’s food production (as opposed to cash crops) and in most developing countries, rural women produce between sixty - eighty percent (60-80%) of the food. Women also have an important role in establishing sustainable use of resources in small-scale fishing communities, and their knowledge is valuable for managing and protecting watersheds and wetlands.

Impacts on Health - At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease.
It is estimated that improved sanitation facilities could reduce diarrhea-related deaths in young children by more than one-third. If hygiene promotion is added, such as teaching proper hand washing, deaths could be reduced by two thirds. It would also help accelerate economic and social development in countries where sanitation is a major cause of lost work and school days because of illness.
No intervention has greater overall impact upon national development and public health than the provision of safe drinking water and the proper disposal of human waste.
Human health improvements are influenced not only by the use of clean water, but also by personal hygiene habits and the use of sanitation facilities.
Close to half of all people in developing countries are suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits.
The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
Impacts on Productivity- Estimated economic benefits of investing in drinking-water and sanitation:
• 272 million school attendance days a year, an added 1.5 billion healthy days for children under five years of age, together representing productivity gains of US $9.9 billion a year
• Values of deaths averted, based on discounted future earnings, amounting to US $3.6 billion a year.
The World Health Organization holds that, every US dollar in sanitation provides and economic return of eight US dollars.
The Global International Water Assessment (GIWA) on its part has come up with a regional assessment reports. It is a systematic assessment of the environmental conditions and problems in transboundary waters, comprising marines, coastal and freshwater areas and surface waters as well as ground waters.
On a final note, it is vital to understand that sustainable development means raising current living standards without destroying the resource base required in meeting future needs. To arrive at this should be the concern of everyone.
Everyone around the world can make a difference, because when it comes to protecting our planet earth every action counts - reduce, reuse, recycle.

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