Water and health, an inseparable and essential pair for the planet

Drinking water is not a commodity accessible to all. According to the United Nations, 29% of the world’s population does not have clean water to drink and more than half do not have access to safe sanitation facilities. The World Health Organization (WHO) has chosen as the theme for this year’s World Health Day “Our planet, our health” and aims to highlight how health is totally linked to environmental well-being; from the quality of the water we drink to the air we breathe.

“Every year, there are more than 13 million deaths from preventable environmental causes, without going any further, to the climate crisis, which is the greatest threat to the health of humanity. The climate crisis is also a health crisis”, declares the WHO on the occasion of this date. And this sends a strong message: environmental issues have direct repercussions on our health. In addition to the fact that diseases and environmental problems share the characteristic of not distinguishing borders. Problems may be local, but their impact is often global.

The lack of access to and sanitation of water is one of the most concerning points for the WHO, because its consumption is not only essential, but access to water is necessary to prevent diseases. At the same time, poor surface water can be the source of the diseases themselves and lead to infections. According to the United Nations World Water Development Report 2021, the world state of water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH, for its acronym in English) must be a priority for governments.

However, the reality is quite different: in a world where 3,000 million people (40% of the population) lack safe facilities to wash their hands with soap and water, one of the recipes the most basic health conditions for the population, and 2.2 billion do not have clean water to drink, thus opening the door to countless illnesses and malnutrition. To solve this problem before 2030, the UN warns that investments and efforts in SDG6 must be quadrupled.

water and disease

Diarrhea, typhoid fever, cholera, diarrhoea, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Zika and chikungunya are some of the diseases that in one way or another are related to the The water. many of them proliferate by drinking unsafe watersince he comes from surface source who are contaminated. The mosquito responsible for dengue fever, chikungunya, zika or West Nile virus also causes these stagnant water sources to proliferate.

Another of the biggest environmental and water issues is that faecal matter contaminates the surface liquid, since it is calculated that only 45% of the population everyone has access to toilets Where unshared latrines. These poor facilities mean that much human excreta is not disposed of on the site or transported to a treatment plant. As an additional problem, according to the WHO, water for washing hands not available in two out of five health facilities in the world.

Wastewater as an index of health

Wastewater reflects the health status of the population. Its analysis indicates the presence of viruses and bacteria, exposure to pollutants and drug use. The water that reaches treatment plants is an alert system important epidemiological, as demonstrated during the covid-19 pandemic. In Spain, the digital observatory developed by the Suez company, COVID-19 SENTINEL CITY, has contributed to the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus through different analytical methods for the rapid detection and quantification of q-PCR genomic units in wastewater. Residual water analysis made it possible to anticipate virus incidence peaks and help health authorities prepare the necessary containment measures to protect the population up to ten days in advance.

But covid-19 is not the only disease that can be detected in wastewater, it can also be used monitoring systems To identify, for example, the hepatitis A, rotavirus, outbreaks of poliomyelitis and thromboencephalitis.

One of the most common and worrisome ills associated with lack of water sanitation is diarrhea, as it can cause malnutrition and therefore thousands of deaths every year. According to the estimates of the WHOwater consumption without sanitation causes 829,000 annual deaths from diarrhea. From this estimate, approximately 300,000 are children under five. Diarrhea is not only caused by drinking unsafe water, but also by lack of hygiene (do not wash your hands). Experts point to the fact that 50% of cases of malnutrition are linked to repeated infectious episodes of diarrhea or intestinal parasites due to direct consumption of water in poor condition or lack of sanitation and hygiene. An assessment contained in the UN Water Resources Development Report found that when water is channeled to better quality facilities and there is continuous availability, the risk of diarrhea is reduced by 75 %.

Typhoid fever is a problem in the poorest regions of developing countries. It is an infection caused by bacteria Salmonella typhi and sThe most common symptoms are high fever and abdominal pain. Bacteria It is transmitted mainly through food and water contaminated with feces. According to the WHO, About 20 million people worldwide suffer from typhoid fever each year. and it is believed that this infection produces some 200,000 dead per year.

Another disease transmitted by unsafe water is cholera, bowel disease caused by bacteria Vibrio cholerae. The WHO estimates that every year there are between 1.3 and 4 million cases worldwide, which culminate in the death of between 21,000 and 143,000 deaths. Cholera produces vomiting and diarrhea and causes dehydration of the body very quickly. Cholera It is transmitted by ingesting water or food contaminated with the cholera bacillus and can also be transmitted by infected people. Cholera is currently considered endemic in more than 50 countries.

Economic losses

In addition to the loss of human life, WHO estimates that there are total economic losses linked to inadequate WASH services. The Organization believes that these amount to 260,000 million dollars per year in 136 countries low- and middle-income earners, which equates to a average annual loss of 1.5% of GDP all of these countries. The United Nations Development Program states that 443 million school days are lost due to water related diseases; the UNESCO World Water Assessment Program maintains that they are produced annually nearly 400,000 deaths at work because of illnesses contagious, the main factors of which are the poor quality of drinking water, sanitation Poor and lack of hygiene.

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