Pre-Collegiate Global Health Review
The Water Quality Crisis in Developing Countries
Saanvi Vemareddy, Rock Ridge High School and Academies of Loudoun, Ashburn, Virginia, USA
According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2020), the average human requires at least two liters of water daily. However, water access and quality are two barriers that endanger the health of those in developing countries who are unable to meet this requirement.
In developing countries, water quality is a prevalent issue for healthcare facilities. The unsanitary conditions put both patients and staff at risk for disease transmission. Globally, 15% of patients develop an infection during a hospital stay, and the majority of this proportion comes from facilities in low-income nations (WHO, 2019). Studies by the World Health Organization, under collaboration with UNICEF, suggest that the majority of these infections are due to the lack of clean water and hygiene protocol (WHO, 2020).
Urban areas significantly contribute to the issue as well. Organic solvents, petroleum products, and heavy metals from disposal sites or storage facilities can migrate into aquifers and infect water sources. Agricultural products, such as pesticides and fertilizers. are carried into lakes and streams through runoff, mixing chemicals into the water. Human and animal wastes from sewage and septic systems also carry harmful microbes into water sources.
Lastly, although ironic, water treatment contributes to drinking water pollution as well. Though the treatment process removes contaminants, it also leaves behind by-products, such as trihalomethanes. Harmful when consumed, trihalomethanes are a group of chemicals resulting from the reaction between chlorine used for disinfecting tap water and the natural organic matter found in water (Hood, 2005). While all kinds of contamination can result in health issues, the severity of these effects are defined by various factors, including a contaminant’s concentration in the water, individual susceptibility, the amount of water consumed, and duration of exposure.
Although the source of contamination can vary the effects of unhealthy water intake, poor water quality of any form can lead to serious and often life-threatening health issues, such as gastrointestinal illnesses and damage to the nervous system. Furthermore, as a prominent source of disease transmission, infected water is linked to cholera, diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid, polio, and much more (WHO, 2019). Diseases can also be carried through insects that may use drinking water as an ideal breeding ground. Water contamination can also lead to the contraction of schistosomiasis, a chronic disease caused by parasitic worms found in infested water (CDC, 2020). Chemical exposure, the result of consuming industry-contaminated water, leads to skin discoloration, nervous system and organ damage, developmental effects, kidney failure, and much more.
Numerous health conditions worsen with time and must be treated immediately. This may not be difficult for those in developed countries, considering they have access to the most updated medical technology and healthcare facilities. On the contrary, developing countries do not have the same luxury. Approximately 3.2 million children die annually from unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation, and it is estimated that nearly half of hospital beds are occupied by patients recovering from water contamination. Due to insufficient funding, developing countries often have to use water bodies as open sewers for waste products. For example, the Ganges River in India contains more than 1.3 billion liters of domestic waste, 260 million liters of industrial waste, run off from 6 million tons of fertilizer and 9,000 tons of pesticides, and a sizable amount of animal carcasses (Dakkak, 2020). Consequently, the lack of proper treatment systems not only eliminates water bodies as a source of consumable water but also renders them useless for agricultural and industrial purposes. As a result, the majority of funds in developing countries are spent on improving healthcare. Many citizens are unable to attend school or work due to these health conditions, damaging the economy as well.
Figure 1. Pollution of the Ganges River in India (The Weather Channel, 2013).
Water contamination is a predominant issue worldwide, with a more dangerous and severe impact on the developing world. As the global water dilemma worsens, it is essential to bring attention to the matter and take the first steps towards change. Non-profit organizations such as charity: water, Water Aid, Thirst Project, and many more have been fighting to end the water crisis. With proper funds, we can move one step closer to providing cleaner water for years to come.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, April 7). Water-related diseases and contaminants in public water systems. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/water_diseases.html.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, May 4). Schistosomiasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dakkak, A. (2021, April 22). Water pollution worries in developing world. EcoMENA. https://www.ecomena.org/water-pollution/.
Environmental Protection Agency. (2018). Drinking Water. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/drinking-water.
Hood, E. (2005, July). Tap Water and Trihalomethanes: Flow of Concerns Continues. Environmental Health Perspectives.
National Geographic Society. (2019, July 15). Point source and Nonpoint sources of pollution. National Geographic Society. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/point-source-and-nonpoint-sources-pollution/.
Rossinger, A., & Herrick, K. (2014, April 7). Water-related diseases and contaminants in public water systems. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/water_diseases.html.
Sacred River resembles a Sewer (PHOTOS): The Weather channel - articles from the Weather Channel. The Weather Channel. (2013). https://weather.com/science/environment/news/india-ganges-river-pollution-201 30416.
World Health Organization. (2019). Drinking-water. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water.
World Health Organization. (2020, December 4). Almost 2 billion people depend on health care facilities without basic water services. World Health Organization.