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The Archives 2004-2020

Fighting the Thirst: Monsoon Season Diseases

Photo Credit: Kamna Gupta

Every morning before I leave for my apartment for my daily errands, I grab my  bag, some food, and my bottle of water. On the streets of a busy day, how many people do you see with that bottle of Aquafina ready to go to tackle another day of work with readily available hydration? I’m sure you can relate to that scenario. One scenario we cannot relate to on a daily basis is the environment during the Monsoon season.

Photo Credit: UNESCO

With half of the Monsoon season gone by rapidly, the unpredictable rains terrorize some, leaving them with nothing, and taunt others, sparing them but taking away bits and pieces of their lives. This weather is nothing new to south Asians, and as a result of the weather, another aspect that is not new to those residents is drinking dirty water everyday.

According to Oxfam America, over one billion people do not have proper access to a water supply that is considered to be ‘safe’. The unpredictable monsoon season throws a mix of floods and droughts, which can increase the spread of ‘communicable diseases’. This includes diseases such as diarrhea, diseases related to sewage infiltration of drinking and bathing sources, fatal worms, malaria, dengue, dysentery, and cholera. The danger is said to be the greatest within the first weeks after a disaster occurs. A study done by Oakland environmental research institute, reported on WaterConserve.org, predicts that as many as 76 million people could possibly die from ‘preventable water-related illnesses’ within ten years if the water systems are not improved. Moreover, although, initiatives have been taken, a study done by Peter Gleick called “Dirty Water” examined how most centralized water delivery systems that are placed to help small communities are ‘far too large to be managed properly’. The people are just not well informed about taking care of such a big system, and sometimes do not even know, or care to know, why it is there.

An initiative known as, the South Asia Pure Water Initiative Inc. (SAPWII) also recognizes the necessity for water that 2.6 billion people need for daily tasks such as cooking and sanitation purposes, and so want to cater to the needs of more than half the population of south Asia who ‘consume unsafe, contaminated, and polluted drinking water.’ They note that because of the increase of disease due to the very poor quality of the water, ‘households spend substantial portions of their meager income every year to cope with the diseases’.

The problem is that due to contaminating salts, minerals, and pathogens, it is extremely difficult to efficiently clean the water. Raising awareness about this problem is equally difficult, since South Asians just drink water that is readily available for drinking without questioning what is in it.  The facilities that are mainly available to most of the villagers are old faucets, pumps, and containers that are contaminated, thus making it easy to spread diseases.

Kemal Dervis, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, wrote in a Boston Globe editorial, “The concern is understandable. About 2.6 billion people today have no regular access to clean water for drinking, bathing, cooking, or basic sanitation. And the consequences are already appallingly evident: Nearly 2 million children die every year because their families don’t have potable water or functioning toilets.” Moreover he followed up with, “Yet rational analysis shows that there is no objective reason – financial, logistical, or geographical – why most of the world’s poor cannot be provided with enough clean water to meet their basic human needs.”  In the June 2009 issue of the Times of India, the state health department reported that the number of patients registered was already on the rise, predicting that there would be a high number of those with infectious diseases as the season progressed. Within 40 days, about 2,000 cases of malaria had been registered in Jaipur during the monsoon season alone, whereas the number of cases within five months from the beginning of the year was at 6,000 cases.  Moreover, in one week there was said to be a 30% increase of those with malaria than during the same time in 2008. The cases of dengue fever came up to 40 cases, the majority of them being reported during the month of June. What is alarming is that most cases of malaria do not show up until between August and October, whereas the highest number of patients with dengue is in November. This is mainly because dengue and malaria are said to spread rapidly due to quickly breeding vector mosquitoes in shallow waters, which usually occurs on household utensils, and allows for the spread in the house to many members of a family. It doesn’t only stop at malaria and dengue, but rather there were about 100 other cases of water-borne diseases, in which vomiting and diarrhea were common symptoms of patients with an infectious disease. It’s important to note that this is only in one state out of the many states and countries that comprise south Asia, but reflect similar trends in their neighboring states and countries.

The World Bank also did it’s share this year, according to the WorldBank Blog, to raise awareness on issues such as embezzlement of funds, bribes for access to illegal water connections, manipulation of meter counters, and collusion in public contracts, by working with Transparency International, to developed a book entitled “Improving Transparency, Integrity, and Accountability in Water Supply and Sanitation”, to serve as a guide for ‘diagnosing, analyzing, and remedying systemic corruption in the water supply and sanitation sectors’.

If progress continues with all of these collaborative efforts and a rise in awareness, one in ever three family that struggles to put a clean cup of water on their table will be able to do so, and the children of tomorrow will also be able to take their water bottle and go off on their way to school, with dirty water as the least of their worries.

Until then, here’s what you can do to help. Visit:
1) Oxfam America: www.oxfamamerica.org
2) UNICEF: www.tapproject.org
3) SAPWII: www.sapwii.org

Munia Islam

Sources:
1)    Oxfamamerica.org: Water
2)    SAPWII.org
3)    The Boston Globe: Access to clean water should be a basic human right
4)    The Times of India: Seasonal diseases show pre-monsoon rise
5)    Waterconserve.org: Dirty water puts millions at risk for fatal illnesses

5 thoughts on “Fighting the Thirst: Monsoon Season Diseases

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