With such easy access to clean water in the UK, it’s easy to take this vital resource for granted. However, clean water is truly essential to a healthy life, and without access to it, mortality rates in children skyrocket, and average life expectancy plummets.
In the UK, contamination of water was a common occurrence before physician John Snow discovered that the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak was in fact caused by a single contaminated water pump. Since then, our quality of water has increased dramatically. Good sanitation has a long history: the ancient Romans are considered to be particularly innovative in their use of plumbed latrines, sponges-on-sticks and using water to flush waste away only after drinking and washing points were established. However, sanitation hasn’t been adopted worldwide – far from it, even in our modern times.
As this report from the NY Times describes, the problem goes deeper than a simple lack of access – the main problem lies in education, or lack thereof. Many third-world people are simply unaware of how essential clean water is to the health of themselves and their children. For those families who earn a tragically low wage, a choice has to be made between kerosene used to boil water, or food for the family, or sandals for children that prevent hookworms. The choice is a terribly difficult one to make. Many families choose to get their water free from polluted wells, simply unaware that the water is fatally unsafe. As a result, people die, with children especially vulnerable. The Guardian has estimated that two million sub-Saharan African children die annually from illnesses caused by drinking dirty water.
Charities such as Water Aid and charity:water are working to provide clean water and sanitation education across particularly affected countries. However, the work these charities have to do before the entire world has access to clean water, and knows the importance of using it correctly, is monumental.
Figures available online paint a damning portrait for countries which don’t have access to the safe, clean water we in the UK enjoy every day.