Why Safe Drinking Water Is a Privilege
Globally, at least two billion people in the world use a drinking water source contaminated with excrement, while 785 million people do not have access to basic drinking water services (including the 144 million who drink surface water) – as reported by the WHO. Unsafe drinking water can bring about a host of diseases – including dysentery, polio, Hepatitis A, and cholera. Diarrhea alone causes almost half a million deaths a year. What is being done to improve water safety in the world, and how can you ensure your home supply is safe and germ-free?
Water Safety in the U.S.
The United States generally enjoys safe drinking water quality, with the CED reporting that people in this nation are “fortunate to have one of the safest public drinking water supplies in the world.” However, in 2018, a study by researchers from the University of California at Irvine and Columbia University found that violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (which covers tap water) are frequent occurrences, with up to 45 million people affected over the past three decades, approximately. As is the case in the rest of the world, it is often rural areas and those where people with low incomes live that problems exist. Nitrate contamination, for instance, is a problem in agricultural areas in the Midwest, Southwest, Atlantic Coast, and California. The EPA has warned that the Safe Drinking Water Act needs to be updated, since many Americans are currently exposed to a vast number of unregulated contaminants.
Testing Water At Home
If you are concerned or curious about the quality of your home tap water, you can become your own domestic water detective. Conduct research into how often your water supply is tested by contacting your local facility. Check your annual water bill, especially the part containing information about consumer confidence and current contaminants. If there is cause for concern, make a small investment in professional water testing by contacting a state-certified water lab. There are many steps you can take at home to improve safety as well – including using cold water for drinking and cooking, running cold water taps for a few minutes before drinking, cleaning your faucets regularly, and keeping your water heater and plumbing system in good condition.
The Problem Is Far Worse in Low-Income Countries
There are large differences in the death rates between countries, with rates in lower-income countries (in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia) being particularly high (over 50 deaths per 100,000). In the Central African republic and Chad, meanwhile, this number rises to over 100 per 100,000. Access to improved water sources is thankfully increasing across the globe, rising from 76% of the world population in 1990 to 91% in 2015 (i.e. today, nearly nine in 10 people have access to improved water sources). However, UNICEF reports that three in 10 people worldwide do not have access to safe, readily available water at home, while around 4.5 billion lack safely managed sanitation. That is to say, billions of people may now have access to basic drinking water and sanitation services, but they do not necessarily enjoy safe water and sanitation at home, in schools, or at healthcare facilities.
Much is being done to improve water safety in developing nations. Nongovernmental organizations like World Vision, for instance, are working with local communities, teaching people how to drill wells and manage and maintain water points. These organizations are also promoting healthy hygiene practices through behavior change training, and teaching communities how to keep water continuously flowing.
Millions of people still lack access to safe water. This is the case despite worldwide efforts to improve access to water and optimal maintenance of water sources. Even in developed countries, safe tap water can be difficult to enjoy, especially in rural areas and those inhabited by people who earn low incomes. Much work is still required in terms of amending laws and creating water safety programs that teach people about hygiene while also providing them with access to flowing water.
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