Mastodon Scientific Frontline: A right to clean drinking water?

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

A right to clean drinking water?

Dr. Edith Nettmann is a microbiologist at the Chair for Urban Water Management and Environmental Technology.
Credit: Damian Gorczany

Water is the elixir of life on our planet. The free availability of clean water must not be a privilege. Therefore, in 2010 the United Nations decided that everyone has the right to clean water and sanitation. However, this human right has not yet been implemented globally. Around 2.2 billion people still have no access to drinking water and around 4.4 billion no sanitary facilities are available. Given these numbers, it is difficult not to speak of a crime against humanity.

People in emerging and developing countries and / or in rural regions are particularly affected. There are many reasons for this: among other things, a lack of / missing wastewater treatment and corresponding infrastructures, environmental pollution, still a lack of information about hygiene, armed conflicts and climate change.

Many fatalities

Worldwide, over 80 percent of all wastewater is still fed into the water cycle untreated. They not only pollute the environment and drinking water resources, but also contribute to the spread of diseases in addition to poor hygiene. These include cholera, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis A. Children in particular are worst hit: in the past ten years, more children worldwide have died of water-related diarrhea than people in all armed conflicts since the Second World War. Today, 450 million children already live in areas with high or extremely high-water uncertainty. And climate change is exacerbating this precarious situation. The increasing extreme weather conditions caused by global warming, such as droughts, floods and heavy rain events, have a very strong influence on the amount and quality of our drinking water.

Expand wastewater treatment

A worldwide expansion of wastewater treatment, for example through decentralized wastewater treatment plants, not only significantly improves the health of the world population, but could also partially compensate for the negative consequences of climate change on the drinking water situation. In addition, wastewater treatment can help reduce greenhouse gases and thus reduce the causes of climate change, for example by using wastewater to produce biogas.

In most of the countries concerned, however, there is still a lack of money, technical knowledge, or unfortunately also the political will to create appropriate water and wastewater infrastructures. It is therefore important that the industrialized nations support these countries financially with their decades of experience in this area. The long-term goal is to ensure that every child worldwide has access to a sustainable and climate-resistant water supply, as Unicef and various non-governmental organizations have been striving for years.

Source/Credit: Ruhr University Bochum

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