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World Water Monitoring Day 2012: Microbes a Major Threat to Potable Water

Published: Friday, September 21, 2012
Last Updated: Friday, September 21, 2012
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Non-profit Water.org trying to address the issue by increasing access to safe drinking water.

September 18 is World Water Monitoring Day, an event coordinated by the Water Environment Federation and International Water Association as part of the World Water Monitoring Challenge (WWMC).

The event encourages people, especially children, to test their local water sources for a variety of characteristics, such as temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen content.

The initiative does an excellent job highlighting the importance of keeping waterways clean, but World Water Monitoring Day fails to address one of the biggest threats to potable water - microorganisms.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states: “Infectious diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and helminths are the most common and wide-spread health risk associated with drinking water.”

Drinking water contaminated with pathogenic organisms is practically a non-issue in developed countries.

In fact, waterborne disease outbreaks are major news events when they do occur, as when the 1993 outbreak in Milwaukee, WI, of Cryptosporidium, a protozoan infection, that made over 400,000 people ill.

Cholera, caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, is a notorious waterborne disease.

In the 19th century, cholera was one of the most widespread and deadly diseases, but it is no longer a threat in the United States or Europe.

Unfortunately, cholera is still a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the developing world.

The WHO estimates that cholera infects 3–5 million people and is responsible for approximately 100,000 deaths per year.

Therefore, the morbidity and mortality associated with cholera is much less than malaria or tuberculosis, but when the burdens of all waterborne diarrheal disease are combined, the WHO estimates that they are responsible for over 4% of the total disability-adjusted life year (DALY) global burden of disease.

Organizations such as the non-profit Water.org are trying to address this issue by increasing access to safe drinking water.

Water.org has formed strategic partnerships with corporate foundations, including PepsiCo, Caterpillar, and MasterCard.

These alliances have helped Water.org make significant progress, but it estimates that 50% of water projects fail due to a lack of community involvement.

Collaboration between Water.org and WWMC could overcome this concern.

WWMC has achieved international involvement, including several countries that have elevated incidences of waterborne disease (e.g., India, Cameroon, and Kenya).

A WWMC/Water.org partnership would enable the organizations to focus on their strengths.

Hopefully the two groups can collaborate soon as UNICEF estimates that a child dies from water-associated diarrhea every 20 seconds.

WWMC could foster community support through education and outreach, and Water.org could coordinate and help finance the water projects using its corporate contacts.

This synergy could also help reduce costs, which would enable more funding for this mission.


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