The linkage between water quality and public health is derived from the fact that unsafe water is responsible for causing a variety of waterborne diseases, such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery, which claims the lives of an estimated 5 million people annually – 6,000 children everyday (NRDC, 2008).
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According to WHO (2010), the quality of drinking water is a foundation for the prevention and control of waterborne ailments, thus water quality is a critical environmental determinant of health for populations using the water.
Water that is contaminated with chemicals or bacteria can compromise the state of public health by increasing the risks of various disease outbreaks.
Due to inadequate or ineffective water treatment policies in most developing countries, drinking water often gets contaminated with chemicals and bacteria from industrial wastes, pesticides, and untreated human waste (NRDC, 2008), setting the stage for the outbreak of notable waterborne diseases as is presently happening in Haiti after the devastating earthquake that occasioned the contamination of drinking water with human effluent.
Some water pollutants carry disease-causing agents such as E. coli, giardia, and the typhoid bacteria, which have been known to cause potentially fatal diseases.
NRDC (2008) notes that an estimated 3 million children perish each year due to waterborne diseases, 90 percent dying before celebrating their 5th birthday as a direct consequence of their weak immunity systems. Contaminated water is also known to cause skin lesions, cardiac conditions, and several types of cancer.
According to Markandya (2004), “…unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene is the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in high-mortality developing countries” (p. 3).
As such, it can be argued that the quality of water is a foremost determinant of the health of populations globally. Indeed, water is a fundamental component of public health, and failure to avail clean water to people in need places a heavy burden on the entire population (Massoud et al., 2010)
Water quality and quantity concerns in the U.S. are remarkably different from concerns raised by a typical developing country. Although various challenges to water quality have been posed (Ashok, 1998), the U.S. has implemented a multiplicity of measures aimed at improving the quality of water, such as source water protection, waste water treatment, water treatment, and effective waste management practices.
Lack of adequate resources and political will continue to compromise efforts geared towards ensuring water quality in most developing nations. In terms of quantity, one of the foremost issue facing developing countries is lack of enough water to meet basic human needs (Markandya, 2004).
Developing countries often contends with the ever-present challenge of chemical and biological water contamination, arising from improper waste disposal and water treatment mechanisms (NRDC, 2008).
This issue has been largely brought under control in the U.S., though some challenges have been reported. However, it should be noted that the issue of water contamination continues to adversely affect the level of water quality in most developing countries. The issue of high water contamination gives rise to rampant outbreak of waterborne diseases.
According to Ashok (1998), waterborne diseases continue to cause high incidences of morbidity and mortality in developing countries. Massoud et al (2010) notes that “…in developing countries, nearly 80% of all diseases are linked to water and sanitation” (p. 24). The U.S. and other developed countries have managed to control the issue of waterborne diseases by putting in place effective strategies, policies, and systems of ensuring water quality.
Water quality and quantity issues in the African country of Kenya have taken a centre stage in the government’s efforts to enhance public health. This is after the realization that a sizeable population of children below age 5 were dying annually of curable diarrheal conditions contracted through drinking unsafe water (Ashok, 1998).
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The country’s budget has for years been burdened by the frequent outbreaks of waterborne diseases due to rampant biological contamination from leaking human sewer pipes and chemical contamination from factories and other installations that directs their effluence into rivers and waterbeds.
Inadequate disposal of human and animal excrement continues to be blamed for massive water contamination in the country, putting many lives at risk. The magnitude of the mortality and morbidity from waterborne ailments is one of the country’s principal environmental health threats to millions of people.
The growth and development of children in the country has been adversely affected by frequent episodes of diarrheal diseases. In rainy seasons, for instance, the country is forced to put up with huge economic costs stemming from lost adult productivity occasioned by waterborne diarrheal diseases (Ashok, 1998).
Community members are forced to shoulder extra healthcare costs as they seek treatment for diseases caused by unsafe drinking water. In equal measure, the quantity of drinking water that can be considered safe for human consumption is barely enough due to population pressure and urban migration.
Ashok, G. (1998). Drinking water in developing countries. Annual Review of Energy & the Environment, 23(11), 253-270. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier Database.
Markandya, A. (2004). Water quality issues in developing countries. Web.
Massoud, M.A., Al-Abady, A., Jurdi, M., Nuwayhid, I. (2010). The challenges of sustainable access to safe drinking water in rural areas of developing countries: Case of Zawtar El-charkieh, Southern Lebanon. Journal of Environmental Health, 72(10), 24-30. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier Database.
Natural Resources Defense Council. (2008). Bringing safe water to the world. Retrieved from <https://www.nrdc.org/issues/water>
World Health Organization. (2010). Water sanitation and health. Retrieved from <https://www.who.int/>