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Improving the Availability of Drinking Water

One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the UN includes environmental sustainability. In 2004, only forty-two percent of people in rural areas had access to clean water.

Drink Gateway from AlansKitchen.comSolar water disinfection is a low-cost method of purifying water that can often be implemented with locally available materials. Unlike methods that rely on firewood, it has low impact on the environment.

One program developed to help people gain access to safe drinking water is the Water Aid program. Working in 17 countries to help provide water, Water Aid international is helping the sanitation and hygiene education to some of the world's poorest people.

The Global Framework for Action (GF4A) is an organization that brings together stakeholders, national governments, donors and NGOs (such as Water aid) to define manageable targets and deadlines. 23 Countries are off-track to meet the MDG goals for improved water availability.

Well contamination

Some efforts at increasing the availability of safe drinking water have been disastrous. When the 1980s was declared the "International Decade of Water" by the United Nations, the assumption was made that groundwater is inherently safer than water from rivers, ponds, and canals. While instances of cholera, typhoid and diarrhea were reduced, other problems emerged. In India for example, 60 million people are estimated to have been poisoned by well water contaminated by excessive fluoride, which is dissolved from the granite rocks.

The effects are particularly evident in the bone deformations of children. Similar or larger problems are anticipated in other countries including China, Uzbekistan, and Ethiopia. Although helpful for dental health in low dosage, fluoride in large amounts interferes with bone formation.

In a related problem, it is estimated that half of the Bangladesh's 12 million tube wells contain unacceptable levels of arsenic due to the wells not being dug deep enough (past 100 M). The Bangladeshi government had spent less than $7 million of the 34 million allocated for solving the problem by the World Bank in 1998.

Natural arsenic poisoning is a global threat, 140 million people affected in 70 countries on all continents. These examples illustrate the need to examine each location on a case by case basis and not assume what works in one area will work in another.

Diarrhea as a major health effect among children

Over 90% of deaths from diarrhea diseases in the developing world today occur in children under 5 years old. Malnutrition, especially protein-energy malnutrition, can decrease the children's resistance to infections, including water-related diarrhea diseases. In 2000-2003, 769,000 children under five years old in sub-Saharan Africa died each year from diarrhea diseases. As a result of only thirty-six percent of the population in the sub-Saharan region having access to proper means of sanitation, more than 2000 children's lives are lost every day.

In South Asia, 683,000 children under five years old died each year from diarrhea disease from 2000-2003. During the same time period, in developed countries, 700 children under five years old died from diarrhea disease. Improved water supply reduces diarrhea morbidity by twenty-five percent and improvements in drinking water through proper storage in the home and chlorination reduces diarrhea episodes by thirty-nine percent.

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