Diving into a vital source
Updated: Jul 2
When I was a child, I enjoyed being outdoors, playing with bugs and twigs, getting dirty with mud, swimming on the beach, and of course, jumping into puddles while it rained. Most kids from my generation have experienced similar hobbies, but not everyone could enjoy them. Even though we have many community parks in our neighborhoods, exploring and connecting with nature was not possible for everybody. Well, there is a simple reason: the lack of water. Not having this essential liquid has inhibited many kids from a wonderful childhood. While some individuals go on vacation to lakes, others are looking for water to wash their hands.
Nowadays, many countries have limited access to this vital resource, a situation that changes their citizens’ lives forever. We are talking about 785 million people – 1 in 9 – lack access to safe water, and 2 billion people – 1 in 3 – lack access to a toilet. These restrictions brought, in addition, a bigger issue: water pollution. This global problem has caused 1.8 million deaths in 2015, according to research published in The Lancet. Contaminated water also causes illnesses due to waterborne pathogens. These microorganisms are a reason for illness from ‘drinking water.’ Some of these diseases spread by unsafe water are giardia, cholera, and typhoid. Over 1 billion people around the world get ill because of these pathogens. Besides, thousands of Americans get sick every year by the ‘Legionnaire’s disease,’ which is a severe form of pneumonia contracted from water sources like cooling towers and piped water.
Most of the individuals affected by water pollution live in low-income neighborhoods established near the most polluting industries. This demonstrates how inequity is strongly related to human health and wellbeing. While we focus on how third-world countries struggle to maintain water sanitation, wealthy countries also pollute water. It is a fact that some industries, and farms release, accidentally or on purpose, wastewater, contributing then to grow pathogens in waterways. Some of the chemical pollutants found in water waste are lead, arsenic, mercury, pesticides, and nitrate fertilizers. These chemicals produce health issues like cancer, hormone disruption, or altered brain function. Of course, children, the elderly, people with preexistent conditions, and pregnant women have more risk to contract any of the diseases mentioned before. When individuals have skin contact with polluted water, they can be at risk of contracting skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, and hepatitis from sewage-laden coastal waters. According to EPA, every year, 3.5 million Americans contract the disease mentioned before.
On the other hand, humans are not the only ones struggling with water pollution. Our aquatic ecosystems are damaged due to our negligence. Adding new elements to water composition can create a chain reaction, imperiling entire aquatic ecosystems. Altering the equilibrium between Nitrogen – Phosphorus – Potassium causes an algal bloom in lakes, rivers, or marine environments. The increase of these introduced nutrients stimulates algae growth, which reduces oxygen levels in the water. This process is known as eutrophication, and it explains how the proliferation of phytoplankton, caused by the increase of Nitrogen and Phosphorus, helps the algae bloom on the water surface. When this happens, aquatic plants cannot receive sunlight causing their death. Dead matter is digested by aerobic bacteria, which consume O2 and generate CO2. The addition of CO2 to aquatic environments produces the annihilation of any life below water and the acidification of seawater. Besides eutrophication, other factors that affect aquatic ecosystems are the chemicals mentioned before. These can harm animals’ reproduction systems, which also affect the marine or freshwater food chain. Negative impacts on the marine or freshwater food chain will generate diseases in people who rely on fish and water-based organisms as food. The objective of sustainability education is to increase awareness that poor ecosystem health leads to poor human health.
As global citizens, we must educate new generations about the issues we embrace due to water mismanagement. It is always good to remember old times when we played outside. However, we need to look forward to ensuring our children, grandchildren a better future. A place where water is universal, equitable, safe, and affordable for everyone, as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) 6 Clean Water and Sanitation declares.
Melissa Denchak “Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know” May 14, 2018, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know#effects
NOAA. “What is eutrophication?” National Ocean Service website. February 26, 2021, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eutrophication.html
United Nations. “Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all” https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation/ Water.org “The Water Crisis” https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/