By Tatiana LeGrand, Humanitas Global
World Water Day has been celebrated since 1993, highlighting a large diversity of water related issues and responses taken by water sector professionals, governments, international organizations and societies. Over the years, raising awareness on the importance of clean and safe water, sanitation, hygiene, and water use in the agricultural and energy sector has brought attention to many success stories but also persisting challenges in the water sector, including pollution of fresh water bodies and groundwater.
This year, the theme is “Better water, better jobs”. Besides sharing the fact that half of the world’s workers are employed in the water sector, it aims to highlight the importance of water safety and security on workers’ livelihoods. Water safety, including proper hygiene as well as availability of sanitation facilities, also affects nutrition safety, something that everyone’s lives depend on.
Diarrhea kills 2,195 children a day, more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. While young children in developed countries are taught the importance of personal hygiene, children in developing countries often lack access to clean water, adequate sanitation or hygiene practices. These deaths are preventable though: roughly 88 percent of diarrhea associated deaths can be attributed to unsafe water, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs have been increasingly implemented in developing countries with great success. Unfortunately, many communities, particularly in rural areas, are still facing challenges regarding safe water access, and lack of awareness on importance of clean water not only for drinking and cooking, but also for bathing. Nowadays more people have mobile phones than toilets.
Infant and adolescent nutrition relies on safe food and water, proper sanitation while cooking and personal hygiene. In the process of growing, processing, delivering, preparing and consuming food, water safety and conservation become increasingly important. Water quality, sanitation and hygiene should be given priority when addressing water and food sector challenges and designing nutrition programs.
Educating communities, with a focus on women and children regarding the importance of domestic water safety should be another priority in addressing current and future challenges in water and food security. Globally, women and children spend 125 million hours every day collecting water to use for consuming, cooking, cleaning and agricultural purposes. Women and girls that live without toilet facilities spend even more time (266 million hours total) looking for a safe place they can use to relieve themselves.
While some problems, like pollution of water bodies, failing water pumps, or absence of sanitation facilities in developing countries can be identified and eventually fixed other challenges persist. Changing incomes and dietary preferences, such as a transition from a starch or vegetarian based diet to one with more meat, requires more water for production. This can also lead to increased pollution from agricultural runoff and waste water. Agricultural water use and management should be made more effective in light of climate change stressors and the looming increase in mouths to feed, as well as to prevent water related conflicts.
Acquisition of water resources, from use in growing crops and raising livestock, to transporting and delivering food, washing our hands and cleaning cooking supplies, to preparing and consuming food, it matters for food safety and nutrition. Long-lasting effects from implementing water and food safety programs can only succeed if everyone is involved: from policy makers, water sector workers, farmers, teachers, community members, to women and children adopting safe cooking and personal hygiene habits at home.
Designing and implementing water programs that target all aspects of water safety, directed at multiple actors and levels is key to ensuring Sustainable Development Goal 6, access to water and sanitation for all!