More than a Drop: World Water Day 2014

More than a Drop: World Water Day 2014

 {Photo credit: Alison Corbacio.}A child in Rajasthan, India drinks from a public water source.Photo credit: Alison Corbacio.

Have you ever thought about water? I mean, really thought about the quality of the water you drink or use for your personal hygiene? Clean water is something many of us take for granted, but billions of people around the world lack access to a dependable source of fresh water and acceptable sanitation facilities.

This year, I joined a coalition of advocates from dozens of organizations to support HR 2901, otherwise known as The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in August 2013 by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It has broad bipartisan support. This bill does not ask for any new funding from Congress; instead, it seeks to use existing funds to improve monitoring and evaluation of WASH projects, increase communication between agencies, and promote partnerships and cooperation among stakeholders.

Access to clean, safe drinking water and sanitation facilities improves life in many ways: it increases women’s empowerment and their capacity to participate in their communities; it helps to keep children in school, especially girls; it minimizes communities’ vulnerability to climate change by encouraging residents to maintain and sustain their freshwater ecosystems; and it can play a role in peacekeeping among groups who share a water source. But the most profound impact that improved access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) has is on public health.

Lack of water and sanitation leads to dehydration, bladder and kidney infections, stunting, malnutrition, increased spreading of neglected tropical diseases like trachoma and guinea worm, and a long list of other diseases and disabilities. An unsafe water source carries the contaminants which cause diarrheal disease–a leading killer of children under five years old. Poorly managed water sources become mosquito breeding grounds, complicating the prevention of vector-borne diseases like malaria.

The reasons to support WASH programming are clear to public health professionals–these projects form the foundation upon which well-functioning health systems can flourish. I am happy to report that the importance of HR 2901 was also evident to Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), whose office I visited last week–she has signed on to become a cosponsor of the bill!

World Water Day is March 22 (this Saturday). Please take a moment to reflect on the impact of WASH on the work you do in public health and show support for WASH projects worldwide. Here are some ways you can help.

What you can do

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