Unfettered access to safe and clean drinking water is fundamental to human development and wellbeing. It is one of the most important requirements in promoting health, hygiene and sanitation, and reducing poverty. Contaminated water transmits diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Contaminated drinking water (www.who.int/entity/water_sanitation_health/water-quality/guidelines/en/index.html) is estimated to cause more than half-a-million deaths because of diarrhoea each year. We have already waged a war against polio and I am proud to say that the disease has been eradicated all over the world except in a few countries. But polio may resurface if we do not check water contamination. WHO, the international authority on public health and water quality, leads the global effort to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases. It does this by promoting health-based regulations among governments and implementing effective risk management practices to water suppliers, communities and households.
I regret to say that according to the WHO-UNICEF (2010) report India has the highest rate of open defecation despite the huge efforts put in by our Government to build more toilets and encourage hygienic sanitation measures. Open defecation means no sanitation. It sullies the environment, degrades water quality and spreads diseases. Access to safe drinking water and good sanitation are vital for family wellbeing. It results in control of child-centric diseases and boosts child health. A healthy child has better learning and retaining ability. Surveys have demonstrated that girls avoid going to school without proper sanitation measures.
Sanitation makes a positive contribution in family literacy. According to a UNICEF study, for every 10 per cent increase in female literacy, a country’s economy can grow by 0.3 per cent. Thus, sanitation contributes to social and economic development of the society. Clean drinking water and good sanitation alone cannot prevent infections without practising good hygiene. A simple habit of washing hands goes a long way towards preventing diseases. Stored water may also serve as a source of infection in the absence of hygiene.
Rotary’s WinS programme promotes awareness of safe water and good sanitation. Every government-run school in our country must ensure good hygiene, have effective sanitation and safe water facilities.
When water comes from improved and more accessible sources, people spend less time and effort collecting it, meaning they can be productive in other ways. This can also result in greater personal safety by reducing the need to make long, risky journeys to collect water. Better water sources also mean less expenditure on health, as people are less likely to fall ill and incur medical costs, and can remain economically productive.
With children particularly at risk from water-related diseases, access to improved sources of water can result in better health, and therefore better school attendance, with positive long-term benefits.
Let us extend a hand to support our WinS programme and ensure that our contribution makes for a healthier future for the children of our country by providing safe drinking water and sanitation. This will unveil a Rotary: Making a Difference.
Director, Rotary International