- 1.4 billion people throughout the world live without clean drinking water. More than 130 million of those people people live in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- 40 percent of the world’s population, or 2.5 billion people, lack access to safe sanitation facilities.
- Food and water tainted with fecal matter cause 1.5 million child deaths a year, most of which could be prevented with the introduction of adequate sanitation facilities, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene.
- 80 percent of all sickness and disease worldwide is related to contaminated water.
Even with these sobering statistics, less than 12% of all international aid donated to combat the effects of inadequate water supply and sanitation went to Central and South American between 2010 and 2011. That is where WEFTA comes in.
Water and Health
“Clean water may be the biggest lifesaver in history. Some historians attribute one-half the overall reduction in mortality, two-thirds of the reduction in child mortality, and three-fourths of the reduction in infant mortality to clean water. In 1854, John Snow traced a cholera outbreak in London to a water pump next to a leaky sewer, and some of the big public works projects of the late 1900s involved separating clean water from dirty. Cities ran water through sand and gravel to physically trap filth, and when that didn’t work (germs are awfully small) they started chlorinating water.” – Laura Helmuth, Slate Magazine
- In Latin America, 95,000 deaths a year are related to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene.
- Dirty water kills more children than war, malaria, HIV/AIDS and traffic accidents combined.
- Besides diarrhea, other diseases commonly found in untreated water include schistosomiasis, trachoma, ascariasis a (parasitic roundworm which affects approximately 45% of the population of Latin America), trichuriasis (a parasitic worm which affects more than 800 million people worldwide, mainly children), and hookworm.
- Community interventions that promote adequate hygiene reduce by 30%-40% the incidence of diarrhea if safe drinking water is available.
- Good hygiene and hand washing greatly reduce gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases, especially in children younger than five.
- Interventions in water, hygiene, and sanitation are among the most cost-effective health interventions.
To promote prevention, WEFTA tailors projects to meet different communities’ needs and structure. For clustered communities, we build centralized water delivery systems, where water pipes from a spring catchment at the water source to a large storage tank and then distribute it to households or centrally located standpipes. In other communities, where the homes are too spread out to make a central distribution network feasible, families dig wells in their front yards–generally about 10 feet deep to reach the water table–and we partner with local groups to provide the materials and technical assistance to line the wells with concrete and install a hand pump at the wellhead for pumping the water.
Sanitation and Health
“Gerald Grob points out in “The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America,” the first sewage systems made the transmission of fecal-borne diseases worse. Lacking an understanding of germs, people thought that dilution was the best solution and just piped their sewage into nearby waterways. Unfortunately, the sewage outlets were often near the water system inlets.”–Laura Helmuth, Slate Magazine
- Unfortunately, in many communities in Latin America, sewage is still dumped directly into waterways used for drinking, washing, and bathing. Only 14% of human waste is processed through treatment plants.
- 118 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean do not use improved sanitation facilities, and 36 million still practice open-air defecation.
- Women have different privacy requirements from men. When the absence of latrines forces them to use public spaces, they can do so only in the shelter of darkness, during early morning and late evening hours, putting their safety at risk. One response is urine retention, which leads to health problems such as urinary tract infections.
- Where drains do not exist or are blocked, and wastewater stands in the streets, children are particularly vulnerable to disease transmission through direct contact. The standing water may also serve to host other disease vectors, such as mosquitoes transmitting malaria and other diseases.
As part of our ongoing efforts, WEFTA assists interior communities in designing, digging, and building pit latrines. However, if the community is located on a river or near an open body of water, we help design and build wastewater treatment plants to get wastewater off the streets and treat it before it is returned to the river.
The clear need for basic water and sanitation services for the poor assumes even greater significance when the linkages with other dimensions of poverty are considered. Water and sanitation related sicknesses put severe burdens on health services and keep children out of school. Additionally, human waste poses a tremendous social cost through pollution of rivers and groundwater.
- The continuing, nearly universal, deterioration of the surface and underground water sources on which people survive means that water and sanitation pressures will simply become worse in the future.
- Environmental degradation reduces labor productivity by contributing to the increased burden of diseases and by limiting income potentials (especially in aquaculture).
- At the national level, dwindling availability of clean water per capita will increase the economic cost of water and, in a situation of scarcity, limit the potential for economic development.
- Locally, communities that fail to protect their surface and ground waters from pathogens have fewer options for drinking water and require more expensive technologies for extracting water from deeper aquifers or for treating surface water to drinkable levels.
- In many Andean communities in Bolivia and Peru, sources of clean and safe water are endangered by runoff from mines which often allow toxic chemicals and heavy metals used in the mining process to run into nearby rivers and streams.
In consideration of the environmental factors, WEFTA adjusts sanitation building plans to suit the local environmental needs. In highland communities where the wastewater can safely go into the ground without contaminating the communities’ drinking water, we help design and build pit latrines. However, in lowland communities where the water table is much higher, we help design and build sealed-cement anaerobic tanks with latrines and showers on top which breakdown the waste instead of allowing it to seep into the drinking water. In certain areas near rivers, we also design and build wastewater treatment plants, instead of anaerobic tanks, to capture and treat wastewater before it runs off the streets into the local river systems.
Every $1.00 invested in access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene yields a return of $5.00 to $46.00, depending on the type of intervention, according to the Pan American Health Organization (View PAHO report here). For example, promotion of adequate hygiene where there is access to clean water leads to a 30-40% reduction in the incidence of diarrhea, resulting in significant savings in doctor and hospital visits, medication and lost work hours. According to the UN Water Sanitation and Water for All campaign, “Research on the economics of sanitation and water indicates that no other single intervention brings greater public health returns; that the annual economic impact of poor sanitation is more than 5-6% of GDP in some countries; and that meeting the Millennium Development Target in sanitation would add 300 billion working days a year globally.”
- There is a strong association between family income and absolute money spent on water. Wealthier families spend more money on water, but poor families spend a higher portion of their income on water.
- Clean water bodies and clean environments are more attractive and have richer biodiversity, which give rise to better human wellbeing and economic activities, notably leisure and tourism industries.
- Poor education and poor health that result from lack of adequate water, sanitation, and pollution removal have serious implications for employment, productivity, and purchasing power, and therefore directly affect societal wellbeing and economic performance.
- The cost of providing and maintaining a hospital bed is many times that of delivering a water and sanitation service. Water and sanitation investments are therefore very cost- effective solutions for public health.
Sometimes, well-intentioned governmental projects run out of funds to complete or maintain, thereby leading to the breakdown of an otherwise beneficial system. Over the years, WEFTA has partnered with several towns, villages, and large communities to design new systems meant to replace defunct or degrading governmental projects. This includes repairing and upgrading old water lines and even designing new water catchment and distribution systems.
Here are some sites to help you learn everything you need to know about water issues around the world, the effects of unclean water and lack of sanitation on people and the environment, and what is being done to address these problems.
The CDC’s site emphasizes WASH (water, sanitation, & hygiene) and covers global issues as well as practical advice and reports for travelers as well as information on water in the developed world.
An incredible, user-friendly site, packed with news, special reports and success stories, available in many languages. Be sure to click on links to World Water Day to read in-depth about yearly water-related themes. This visual nature of the site and video library makes this great for students and youth.
Global site with a mix of fact sheets and detailed reports on all water-related issues, available in all official UN languages.
This link takes you to the index of health and sanitation issues—including Wastewater and Excreta–as reported by PAHO , which is part of WHO. The site is specific to the Americas, and statistics and reports are available by country. In English and Spanish.