Water Crisis: Mass killer: dirty water

Poverty can be measured in gallons. For more than 20 per cent of the world's population - 1.4 billion people - the lack of safe drinking water is perhaps the greatest deprivation of all. Even more - about two billion - do not even have basic sanitation: their wastes often get into the water.

Dirty water is the world's greatest single killer. Every day it claims the lives of 25,000 children. Every year about four million children under five die from just one water-borne disease, diarrhoea. That is the equivalent of wiping out every pre-school child in Britain and Australia one year, killing under fives in Canada and Germany over the next 12 months, and so on, year after year.

In rural Africa children are commonly ill, largely from waterborne diseases, for 140 days in the year. Even those who survive may be gravely damaged, for repeated illness causes malnutrition, stunting their physical and mental growth.

And not just children suffer. At any one time half the inhabitants of developing countries are ill with diseases associated with dirty water and poor sanitation. Four-fifths of all illness - and a third of all deaths - are caused this way, while an average person in the Third World loses one tenth of his or her productive time each year to waterborne diseases. India forgoes 73 million working days each year - and $600 million in health costs and lost production - to the effects of dirty water.

Hundreds of millions of people in the rural Third World go through life without ever using a tap. In rich countries, we each use between 150 and 1,000 litres of water a day. Relatively prosperous Third World city dwellers use between 100 and 350 litres, while poorer neighbours depending on public hydrants may manage on 20 to 70. But, in the city slums or, above all, in the countryside, where there are few taps, the amount drops dramatically; in rural Kenya, for example, it can fall as low as two to five litres a day, close to the limit for bare biological survival.

Every drop of the scarce, often dirty water has to be carried, inevitably by women, often for miles and hours on end. A typical full container weighs 20kg, the same as a suitcase at the limit allowed by most airlines. In parts of Africa and India women often have to walk for at least six hours just to get to and from the waterholes, and queue for another four hours when they get there.

This task dominates their day, denying them the chance to do more productive work. The weight of the water causes backache, and can result in disability.

Once brought, every drop is treated like gold. When a UN official chided an African villager for not making her children wash their hands after defecating (a practice which cuts the incidence of diarrhoea almost in half) she retorted: "I have to carry our water seven miles a day. If I caught anyone wasting water by washing their hands, I would kill them."

The 1980s, by international decree, was designated the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade with the avowed goal of providing everyone alive with clean water by 1990. It did not achieve this target, the deadline was moved to the year 2000, and no-one expects this to be met either. Nevertheless, the World Health Organisation reports the drive did bring safe water to over a billion people for the first time. In almost every country, it says, the proportion of people with clean water increased, sometimes dramatically. In Burkino Faso it went from 30 to 68 per cent.

The benefits are enormous. In economic terms, the Venezuelan Government found that every dollar invested in clean water paid for itself five times over in increased production. The human gains are incalculable. And, morally, the state of its water remains a crucial yardstick of the world's values.

Arts and Entertainment
TVSabotage, a major meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Management Accountant

£30-35k + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Management Accoun...

UI Designer / UX Designer

£40 - 60k + Amazing Benefits: Guru Careers: A UI Designer / UX Designer is nee...

SEO Manager / SEO Expert / Head of Search

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: An SEO Manager / SEO Expert is needed to join an inno...

Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

£30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?