The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Clean water could save millions of lives

Nov 27, 2006

In the poor countries of the world, more than 5,000 children die every day from drinking contaminated water. According to a 2006 U.N. Human Development Report, more than a billion people lack access to clean water and more than two billion have no sanitary facilities. Human waste ends up tossed on the ground or runs openly into the streets of the world’s largest cities. Nearby rivers where many people draw their drinking water run with untreated sewage.

When the governments of wealthy countries provide money for “development,” it hardly ever goes to safe water and plumbing facilities. Only about four billion dollars a year is spent for clean water and sanitation, far less than the rich countries spend just on bottled water. Nor do the governments in poor countries make water and sanitation a priority. So their populations constantly suffer and even die from diarrhea, cholera, typhoid or parasitic worms, all associated with unclean water.

These deadly diseases no longer affect populations in the rich countries. Britain’s industrial revolution forced millions of peasants from rural areas into urban slums. But by 1850, the country was installing more than 2,000 miles of sewage pipes every year. Even when humans didn’t understand the connection between contaminated water and deadly disease, they understood that sewage affected their health. Two thousand years ago, a giant pipe was laid under the center of Rome to push waste into the River Tiber. More than 3,000 years ago, sewage pipes were laid in the Indus River valley of ancient India.

Ridding cities of sewage has led to longer life spans. When sewage channels were built through the slums in Karachi, Pakistan’s capital, the infant mortality rate began to fall. Today newborn deaths have gone from 130 per 1000 to 40 per 1000 in 25 years simply because sewage was taken away from residential areas.

What can be done in one city could easily be done elsewhere – if saving human life were a priority.