Water is necessary for the survival of living things. In fact, dehydration - the lack of water - will kill an organism faster than starvation - the lack of food. Since the plants and animals that many humans and other animals eat also depend on water, lack of it could lead to starvation as well as dehydration. In addition to sustaining life, clean freshwater is needed by humans for personal hygiene, irrigation, industry, and recreation. Humans bath with it, brush their teeth with it, use it to grow crops and to cool industrial reactors, and swim, boat, and fish in.
Despite the significance of water, research has shown that one in every five people in the world does not have access to clean water. And half of the world's population lack access to proper sanitation. This leads to constant ill health - millions of children still die from diarrhoea. Lack of portable water also means hours of toil for women and girls who are constantly weary, walking miles to fetch water. Most of these girls often miss out on school.
The answer is not more charity or NGO projects. Water and sanitation are not a matter for charity. They are essential for human health and development. If we look back at the history of the West in the early days of industrialization, we find child labour, illiteracy, diseases and low life expectancy. The big uplift in health and survival came as engineers built better systems to provide water and sanitation. This was even more important for improvements in health care. The developing world needs to do the same. In many poor countries, people still pay large sums for water. Therefore, as the international water conference continues in the Senegalese capital Dakar, we hope the plight of the millions who still lack clean water and sanitation will be considered. Clean water is an essential component of development. The global development action plan cannot materialize if this significant component is ignored. Improved water and sanitation services are crucial to improved health. The poor of the world work enormously hard.
They constantly improve their lives through their own creativity and hard work. But ill health is a major barrier to the improvement of their lives. Easily preventable and curable illnesses like malaria, TB and diarrhoea create enormous burdens for the health sector. A breadwinner who falls ill throws a whole family into uncertainty. The ill health of children leads to the spending of savings and the sale of animals and tools thus reducing families to penury. Investing in sustainable systems to provide water and sanitation for all enhances human dignity and economic development.