Commentary on water and sanitation by Seth Mensah Armah
Water is life. It makes up abut two-thirds of our bodies by weight. Our brains, lungs and blood are essentially water. Thus, without water life cannot be sustained. The commemoration of the World Water Day is therefore relevant to our survival as it draws attention to prevailing water crisis around the world.
The theme for the day's celebration is in line with the designation of the year 2008 as International Year of Sanitation. This is probably because water and sanitation are inseparable. It is worth mentioning that over 2 bn people around the world lack access to basic sanitary facilities, whiles over a billion people are deprived of safe drinking water.
This should be an issue of public health concern, since such people are vulnerable to various diseases including diarrhoea, cholera and schistosomiasis. Perhaps, a review of the extent to which some of these diseases continue to threaten our existence would deepen our appreciation of the importance of sanitation and water to our survival.
Credible estimates have it that, around the world, diarrhoea occurs at a rate of 4 bin cases per year, resulting in about 2.2m deaths every year, mostly among children under five years of age. Intestinal worms infect about 10 per cent of the population in the developing world and about 6m people over the world are blind from trachoma which is caused by a combination of factors including poor hygiene and lack of water, and about 200m people are infected with schistosomiasis.
Prospects for improving this situation include enhancing the availability of safe drinking water and the provision of sanitary facilities. It is agreeable then that one of the targets of the 7th Millennium Development Goal of the United Nations is to have the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by the year 2015.
The celebration of this occasion is very timely, particularly for us Ghanaians. This is especially because of the prevailing acute water shortage in some parts of Accra, including Teshie, Labadi, Osu and Nungua. The potential effects if the water shortage must not be overlooked as people are compelled to use dirty water leading to increase in worm infestations and other water borne diseases.
Manholes are also used in search of water instead of engaging in productive ventures. The dilemma of school children in such situations must also be concern, as they may have to spend a lot of time, sometimes their school hours, queuing for water.
This obviously affects their work at school and also exposes them to many water borne diseases. Special mention must be made of the scourge of guinea worm in some parts of the country, especially the northern and upper regions, and of the exhaustive efforts by government to eradicate the disease by 2010.
Current reports show a trend of reducing prevalence of the disease. Let us all use this occasion to also revive communal labour in our societies, to ensure clean and healthy surroundings. Clearing of bushy areas, proper waste management and draining of stagnant gutters are important in disease prevention.
These must not be seen as things of the past or as responsibilities of government. Sanitation at our market places is also crucial in the promotion of food safety and good health. We must resolve to avoid indiscriminate cutting of trees and the disposal of waste into water bodies; these activities endanger not only our water resources but also our health. Instead, we must make conscious efforts to plant more trees.
The relevant authorise must also take stringent measures to protect these valuable resources; when necessary, deserving punishments must be meted out to deviants in society who abuse them. As we celebrate this occasion, we must bare in mind that our commitment to the course of good sanitation would go a long way to save lives. We must also remember that cleanliness is next to godliness.
By: Seth Mensah Armah, Nutrition and food science department of the University of Ghana