Global Water Crisis
The global water crisis refers to the extensive lack of clean and accessible water worldwide. Water is essential to human bodily functions and everyday tasks. People use water to grow crops, cook food and clean. If water is not easily accessible, is only available in limited portions, or is highly contaminated, communities are negatively affected.
The World Health Organization estimates that 663 million people worldwide do not have safe and accessible drinking water, meaning that unclean water regularly exposes 8 percent of the world to disease, dehydration and even death due to their water source.1 Polluted water may have chemicals such as lead, arsenic or excessive levels of fluoride or dangerous microorganisms such as rotavirus, cholera, dysentery or human waste. These global water crisis facts are concerning.
For people experiencing poverty or in areas with limited access to water, even visibly contaminated water may be used for bathing, cleaning dishes and even drinking. Many families do not have another option. Numerous contaminants are microscopic, so the human eye cannot detect them; however, they still pose a health risk.
Whether water is visibly contaminated or not, unfiltered water can expose communities to dangerous illnesses and chemicals and contribute to the global water crisis. Contaminated water can harbor waterborne illnesses such as cholera, dysentery and rotavirus.2 All three of these invisible infections cause severe diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration and even death. According to the WHO, a staggering “829,000 people die each year from diarrhea because of unsafe drinking-water, sanitation, and hand hygiene.”3
Additionally, mosquitoes breed in stagnant water and are known transmitters of dengue fever and malaria in large portions of the world, including Africa and South Asia. Anyone in these regions using unfiltered water from ponds, lakes or other still bodies of water are at risk of these vector-borne diseases.
Pipes channel water underground to homes and businesses. Corroded, rusted or lead-lined pipes add harmful chemicals such as lead directly to this water. If the water is untreated or unfiltered, this can lead to serious health concerns.4
In 2014-2019, lead-contaminated water created significant problems in Flint, Michigan. For the better part of a century, numerous toxins contaminated the Flint River. Local industries and Flint’s waste treatment plant dumped raw sewage into the river, and runoff from local landfills and agricultural areas added chemicals and waste.
In 2013, to reduce the cost of water, local government officials decided to pipe water directly from Flint River rather than piping it from Detroit. However, they did not treat the toxic water correctly, and the old pipes added lead to the water supply going to thousands of homes across Flint.
By Spring 2014, water samples indicated high lead levels in the water. Prolonged exposure to high lead levels can cause anemia and generalized weakness, along with kidney and brain damage. Some cases of lead poisoning cause death.5 Nearly 9,000 children in Flint drank and used lead-filled water for 18 months.6 The United States and Michigan governments have responded with water crisis solutions such as regular water treatment and testing, but this exposure to unclean water and toxic contaminants will affect the health and well-being of the city for years to come. Examples like Flint are not unheard of because the effects of contaminated water can be far-reaching.
Even if water-related illnesses are not fatal, illness can render people unable to work. For many employees, being too sick to work means they aren’t paid and may lose their jobs. The WHO estimates that roughly half of the world does not have essential medical services.7 Without proper medical care and sanitation, infections and routine cases of diarrhea can create severe health risks.
- Protected water sources — To keep water sources safe for consumption, local communities must protect the water from human waste, chemical runoff and other contaminants. It is important to move drinking water sources away from high-risk areas near factories, urban and agricultural areas, and places where people defecate unless organizations regularly monitor and treat the water. It is also helpful to separate drinking water from water used for bathing, irrigation and cleaning.
- Safe sanitation systems — Protecting water sources from contamination is vital, but water should also be tested and treated to eliminate harmful contaminants, especially microscopic viruses and toxins. Implementing safe sanitation systems must be done on federal and local levels.
- Hand-washing education — Providing comprehensive education about germs, soap and proper handwashing etiquette decreases the transmission of germs. According to the CDC, handwashing decreases diarrhea-related illnesses by 23-40 percent.8
The global water crisis is an ongoing issue, but there are many steps individuals and governments can take to ensure communities worldwide have access to clean water.
Do you want to participate in that change? Learn more about GFA World’s Jesus Wells program at https://www.gfa.org/videos/jesus-wells/ and see how you can help bring hope to communities in need through clean, accessible water.Learn more about water stress
1 “Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH).” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/water-sanitation-and-hygiene-wash.
2 “Water, sanitation, hygiene and health: A primer for health professionals.” World Health Organization. 2019. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-CED-PHE-WSH-19.149.
3 “Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH).” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/water-sanitation-and-hygiene-wash.
4 “Lead Poisoning.” World Health Organization. 2021. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health.
5 “Health Problems Caused by Lead.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/lead/health.html.
6 “Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC. November 8, 2018. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/flint-water-crisis-everything-you-need-know#sec-summary.
7 “World Bank and WHO: Half the world lacks access to essential health services, 100 million still pushed into extreme poverty because of health expenses.” World Bank and World Health Organization. December 13, 2017. https://www.who.int/news/item/13-12-2017-world-bank-and-who-half-the-world-lacks-access-to-essential-health-services-100-million-still-pushed-into-extreme-poverty-because-of-health-expenses.
8 “Why Handwashing?” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. September 10, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html.