November 28, 2005
water, sanitation critical to global health
By Holly Korschun
A concerted effort by governments and organizations
around the world to provide access to clean drinking water and adequate
sanitation would alleviate many diseases that plague developing nations,
according to a recent research commentary by Emory scientists. The
commentary by James Hughes, director of the Center for Global Safe
Water in the Rollins School of Public Health, and Jeffrey Koplan,
vice president for academic health affairs, was published in the
October issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
According to Hughes and Koplan, unsanitary water is
largely responsible for diarrheal and related diseases, which were
cause of death in children
under 5 years of age from 2000–03. The World Health Organization has estimated
that almost 90 percent of deaths from diarrheal diseases are linked to unsafe
drinking water and poor sanitation. Experts estimate that one-sixth of the world’s
population (about 1.1 billion people) do not have access to clean drinking water,
while another 2.6 billion people live without adequate sanitation.
Some governmental and private organizations have recognized
the problems these conditions pose to developing countries and have
to implement solutions.
In 2000, member states at the United Nations Millennium Summit set eight Millennium
Development Goals, one of which was to ensure environmental sustainability around
the world. Part of this goal was to achieve a 50 percent reduction in the proportion
of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by the year
2015. Other public and private sector organizations like CARE, Proctor & Gamble,
The Coca-Cola Company and Starbucks (through its recent acquisition of Ethos
Water) also have contributed through various projects and initiatives.
But Hughes and Koplan said there is still much work
to be done.
“There’s a continuing need to draw attention to these issues and
intervene to help reduce mortality and increase the quality of life in these
countries,” Hughes said. Organizations like the Center for Global Safe
Water have the opportunity to make a difference “through their expertise
and evaluation of projects and techniques,” he added.
The most basic and important efforts would focus on
providing access to safe water, basic sanitation and improved hygiene
Such an initiative
would require collaboration by the world’s governments and organizations,
which would need to agree on strategies, roles and responsibilities to maximize
Also, novel approaches to improving water, sanitation
and hygiene quality should be explored and tailored to address specific
situations, Hughes and Koplan
wrote. Increases in hand-washing with soap in African refugee camps and urban
slums in Asia, along with in-home disinfection of drinking water in Kenya,
are two examples of innovative approaches that have helped lower the incidence
diarrheal diseases in these areas.
Recent catastrophic events such as the tsunami in Asia
and hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the U.S. Gulf Coast have emphasized
water and sanitation problems everywhere, especially after natural disasters.
But the researchers stressed that a much stronger commitment is necessary
to adequately address these global public health concerns and
break the cycles
of disease and poverty that dominate life in developing countries.