Of course, water is needed for everyone’s life in the world – be it a member of Homo sapiens or any other species. Without water, life cannot be even thought of. But it needs to be clean for drinking, cooking, bathing, and so on. Clean water has enormous benefits. Potable water keeps one healthy by preventing the spread of diseases and improving health conditions. This alternatively indicates that safe water results in reduced mortality, morbidity or injury. On the contrary, a lack of safe water causes diarrhea and other types of diseases. Moreover, a large number of persons die each year from a variety of diseases resulting from contaminated water in the world.
Before moving further, it seems better to say something about safe water. Of course, there is no universal definition of it. Safe potable water is usually defined as the water that is safe for drinking, food preparation, personal hygiene as well as washing. The Monitoring organizations under the supervision of the Joint Monitoring Programme define safe drinking water as water from an improved water source that includes household connections, public standpipes, boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs and rainwater collections. It usually meets the requirements of chemical, biological and physical quality or standards. But this are not the case always. Safe water may also contain some traces of salts such as magnesium, calcium, carbonates, bicarbonates and others. The extent of purity and safety is rendered as a relative term.
Around the world, more than one billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. But access to clean water is usually less in less developed countries and rural areas. In urban areas, some areas especially sub-urban areas have limited access to clean water. Although accessibility has somewhat improved in rural areas across countries, a major portion of the rural areas still lacks access to safe water. Still, ponds and other unimproved water sources including unprotected dug well and unprotected spring which contain contaminated water are used for drinking and cooking in rural areas of some parts of the world. Moreover, deep-tube wells used for extracting drinking water especially in rural areas contain varied harmful elements including manganese, chloride and iron contamination that reduce the quality of water.
Of course, an important question remains on whether access to potable water can be ensured for all around the world. In my opinion, it is obviously not as difficult as is said, even if there are a range of challenges. Efforts are ongoing and enormous. In fact, there are efforts of the governments, international organizations, private organizations and national non-government organizations across countries to improve access to safe water. Safe drinking water is undeniably accepted as an international agenda as well as a priority. This becomes clear from the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. As it appears, one of the aims of the SDGs is to provide universal access to clean water and sanitation by 2030.
Along with the increased treatment of water and increased supply lines, more tube wells for extracting ground waters are, moreover, being distributed in different parts – especially the underdeveloped ones – of the world. Consequently, accessibility to clean and quality water improved much in the last few decades across countries. In 2010, the world met the MDG drinking water target to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. From 1990 to 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to improved water sources in the world. Now, more and more people are getting access to safe water for drinking, bathing and cooking each year even in some countries in Asia and Africa which lack adequate access to clean water.
Of course, there is a range of policy-related, policy implementation-based, distributional system-related and other challenges to the desired access to potable and quality water in the world. Some significant challenges are a lack of water regulation policy or plan, ineffective implementation of regulatory measures related to water, the contamination of water in distribution systems, securing sustainable water supplies for megacities, growing water scarcity, water conservation, reducing global and regional disparities (especially in access to safe water), a lack of the development of financially sustainable water services and inadequate participation of citizens. Undeniably, such challenges are not similar across countries, there are country wise differences.
Of course, diverse measures are needed to improve access to safe water across countries. In this respect, the development of water safety plans and implementation of water regulatory measures are very much important. Undeniably, some other efforts including providing home water-treatment capability through the use of filters to make drinking water safe, increased use of surface water with the establishment of an adequate treatment plant, implementing rainwater harvesting systems to collect and store rainwater for drinking or promoting safely-managed rainwater harvesting in the communities, schools and healthcare facilities, and promotion of low-cost solutions that can improve water quality need to be strengthened. Moreover, a focus on improving safe water should be given based on areas and types of access problems across countries.
Not less important is that the causes of water contamination should be well-addressed. In fact, there is a range of causes of water contamination including industrial waste, marine dumping, mining activities, sewerage and wastewater, accidental oil leaks and spills, chemical fertilization and pesticides, and the burning of fossil fuel or global warming. It is undeniable that industries and industrial sites across the world are a major contributor to water contamination. Moreover, accidental oil leakage is a frequently seen reality in the world. Alternatively saying, effective measures should be taken so that such causes do not lead to water contamination and make the availability of safe water difficult.
Of course, awareness should be raised. In this regard, awareness campaigns, that seek to change the policies, practices, systems, structures, decisions and attitudes that are causing the issue, problem or situation, are important. In raising awareness about water quality, the preservation of safe water and the effects on the health of contaminated water, mass media, both electronic and print, can play very effective roles. Of course, more allocation of financial resources is important for improving access to safe water especially in countries in Asia and Africa that have an inadequacy in access.