The inaccessibility of clean water and latrines is still a problem devastating developing countries across the world. Recent figures speak of a world of injustice, where nearly 800 million people lack access to safe water and 2.5 billion to sanitation. This is a far cry from the flushing toilets, hot showers and clean drinking water taken for granted in most developed countries.
Imagine spending 60% of your day fetching water? It may sound absurd, but this is a reality for many across the globe. The challenge of finding safe water is a daily struggle for underprivileged communities, and is a particular problem in areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. Poor infrastructure combined with the failure to manage services can often be blamed for this, and the reasons vary from a lack of education, meagre financial investment or an absence of political will to prioritise people's right to water. This can leave communities miles away from a working water pump, and without any form of sanitation. The consequences of drinking unclean water or living without sanitation are fatal: an inconceivable 4,000 children die every day. This high mortality rate is only a proportion of the 4 million deaths each year, caused by water borne diseases or poor-sanitation.
Unsafe drinking water is not the only threat facing these disadvantaged communities however. The time and energy required to fetch clean water, combined with the debilitating effects of using dirty water, impacts critically upon a person's ability to find employment or attend school. An estimated 200 million hours are spent each day by women worldwide collecting water. That is the equivalent of over 20,000 years! So, the lack of clean water is not just ravaging the health of communities, but it is also halting opportunities for development. It is women who are disproportionately affected by this, regarded in some cultures as the guardians of the water, they are responsible for maintaining the supply. The time allocated to water collection can therefore prevent these women from studying, working, or raising their families. This means that those living without clean water are inhibited in many ways, touching all aspects of their lives.
A lack of sanitation is an even larger problem, affecting billions of people across the globe. Without access to a safe and clean toilet facility, people are exposed to diseases, and also suffer the lack of privacy and the indignity parcelled with it. When entire villages and towns are forced to defecate outside, disease spreads rapidly and water sources become polluted. Women and girls are often forced to wait until dark in order to go to a bush, which can lead to poor health and leave them vulnerable to attack or assault. The benefits of hygienic sanitation are multiple, and yet the poorest and most marginalised communities often lack a voice, and are unable to change the situation themselves.
Charities such as Water Aid and Oxfam have worked for many years to improve the conditions for those living without safe water and sanitation. They aim to promote and secure deprived people's rights and increase access to safe water, alongside improved hygiene and sanitation. Raising awareness of the health implications is also a significant issue to be overcome. Whilst providing clean water and latrines is vital, it is useless without the provision of hygiene advice. It also necessary to train local people about maintaining the systems in place, and making sure they feel knowledgeable and included. On the other hand, latrines and clean water have been known to increase school attendance, reducing the days lost through illness and raising educational performance.
The problems may seem vast and overwhelming, but positive work is being done every day to improve the lives of those affected. Clean water pumps are being built, latrines are being set up, and the introduction of simple irrigation schemes has already shown to kick started faming, giving people the chance to make a living and improve local diets. There is still a long way to go, but with government pressure, events such as World Water Week in Stockholm, and the time and effort of volunteers, the solutions are at our finger tips.
Want to help? The Laos Volunteer Adventure is a sustainable development project that includes looking at water supply and waste management, or work to reduce human-elephant conflict over water supplies in the Namibian desert.
Author Camilla James, is an Online Journalism Intern at Frontier, an international non-profit volunteering NGO that runs over 300 volunteering projects around the globe. She can be found blogging on Frontier's Gap Year Blog or posting on the Frontier Official Facebook page.