Water Wars: Bugs & Politics

In 2017, 5.3 billion people drank water from safe sources – meaning local water sources that were readily available and free from contaminants, while 2.2 billion people were drinking from water sources that weren’t managed safely.

The following numbers are provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding water sources and accessibility:

1.4 billion people have basic services, meaning an improved water source located within a round trip of 30 minutes & 206 million people with limited services, or an improved water source requiring more than 30 minutes to collect water

435 million people taking water from unprotected wells and springs & 144 million people collecting untreated surface water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.

Drinking water that is not treated properly and poor sanitation practices is associated with several diseases including cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Let’s take a look at this more specifically. What’s in the water that can lead to disease?

Cholera– caused by ingesting Vibrio cholerae found in water or food items that have been contaminated by feces from a person infected with Cholera. Cholera can also result from eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

Rotavirus is the leading cause of diarrhea. Most of the germs that cause diarrhea are spread through drinking water or eating food contaminated with feces.

Dysentery – often caused by Shigella species (bacillary dysentery) or Entamoeba histolytica (amoebic dysentery), dysentery can be diagnosed when an individual is exposed to water and food that has been contaminated by with feces. Additionally, a person can be diagnosed with dysentery when touching human or animal feces without washing their hands in an appropriate manner.

Hepatitis A – a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver, it is caused by eating food or water contaminated with feces. Moreover, Hepatitis A can be caused by inadequate sanitation and poor personal hygiene.

Typhoid Fever – caused by Salmonella typhi bacteria, this is a significant health threat for children in developing nations. Although it is rare in countries with modern water quality improvement infrastructures in place, typhoid can also spread through contaminated food and water or through close contact with an infected individual.

Polio – yet another illness that can result from water and food contaminated with feces. It can also be passed through direct contact with someone who has the virus already. Untreated polio can lead to nerve injury and ultimately paralysis. Polio has largely been eradicated in the world due to modern medicine.

Global & Local

Surely safe drinking water is largely an issue in for other countries; the U.S. doesn’t have these problems, right? Wrong! 4.32 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illness occur each year due to drinking water from public drinking water systems. This number does not include the number of illnesses that arise out of private wells, recreational water, etc.

There is still a lot of research being done to understand the full extent of waterborne illness in our country. Waterborne illness symptoms look different depending on the virus or bacteria involved, including gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, stomachache), respiratory illness (coughing, shortness of breath, pneumonia), wound infections, and infections involving the ears, eyes, and skin. With that said, research about water quality are of the utmost importance. Our adult bodies consist of 60% water, and we need water to survive.

Water Politics

At a certain point, there may not be enough water to sustain life on this planet. Governments and corporations have been working together and suggesting that water privatization is the best solution for this problem. Is it? Maybe. Maybe not. As more public sources of water are sold or ‘rented out’ to corporations, some are sounding alarms. Water is a precious commodity and, as a commodity, its price can fluctuate. Corporations may be able to raise prices on this essential nutrient and control who is able to obtain it. In other words, water may end up going to the highest bidder. On the this side of the debate are also those who say that water is a human right and should be universally available, not just for those at a higher income level.

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