Preventable Death*

Posted on | oktober 17, 2011 | No Comments

Water is the commonest vector of diseases and most of these diseases are infectious. Health, hygiene and life expectancy are critically dependent on water; hence the necessity of ‘safe’ water is most talked about issue of the present time. If we do not live a healthy life, perhaps, all amenities of life that the modern growth obsessed world create for us will be left for a vast graveyard of future.

I am content to use the word ‘safe’ as this seems to be a collective metaphor for clean, accessible, drinkable, potable and possibly free water (at least for those who cannot pay for it).

The list of water related diseases is pretty long. We heard the dreaded names of a few of such diseases, while many are lest known. Human society is living with these diseases for millennia but such diseases cannot be eradicated, as water is at the center of them, much like us. However, we are progressively getting compromised with such disease risk for primarily two reasons; a) Population growth which increases statistical probability of coming in contact with such infections and b) Water shortage which increases the shared access of water from the same contaminated source. You may find these fact sheets of some water related diseases from WHO useful.

While some researchers classify these diseases in terms of Microbial Agents, namely Protozoal, Parasitic, Bacterial and Viral (see Wikipedia), I find making this classification on the basis of human interaction with water more relevant for any discourse involving water. Such classification is:

  • Water-borne – These are diseases that spread when people drink contaminated water or eat food cooked with contaminated water. The contamination is fecal in nature. Common waterborne illnesses include typhoid, cholera, dysentery, gastroenteritis, and hepatitis.
  • Water-washed – These are diseases caused by poor hygiene from inadequate water availability. Typical water-washed diseases include Shigella, which causes dysentery, scabies, trachoma, yaws, leprosy, conjunctivitis, skin infections and ulcers.
  • Water-based – These are diseases spread by aquatic organisms, mostly parasitic in nature, that penetrate directly into the body. Examples are Schistosomiasis and guinea worm disease.
  • Water related insect vector – These diseases are caused by insects that breed in trapped water. Examples are Malaria, filariasis, yellow fever, and river blindness.
  • Diseases caused by defective sanitation – Hookworm

These diseases manifest in three main different clinical conditions; diarrhea, fever and skin and eye infections.

With the advancement of Medical Science none of these diseases are incurable, in fact it is fairly easy to detect and cure all of them. But fact remains that these are silent killers. They kill in the order of millions of people in different corners of the world and kill silently because the victims are Poor, Marginalized and Children. They die silently.

These numbers bear evidences of the sad failure of our post modern policy and management pundits and the fast growing societies that can send humans to moon but cannot stop a child from dying on earth.

“If no action is taken to address unmet basic human needs for water, as many as 135 million people will die from these diseases by 2020.  Even if the explicit Millennium Goals announced by the United Nations in 2000 are achieved – unlikely given current international commitments – between 34 and 76 million people will perish from water-related diseases by 2020.  This problem is one of the most serious public health crisis facing us, and deserves far more attention and resources than it has received so far.” – Peter Gleick.

Different researchers estimates different rates of deaths on account of water-related diseases, but even the most optimistic of such reports is mind numbing.

Source Deaths per Year
World Health Organization 2000 2.2 million (diarrheal diseases only)
World Health Organization 1999 2.3 million
WaterDome2002 more than 3 million
World Health Organization 1992 4 million
World Health Organization 1996 more than 5 million
Hunter et al. 2000 more than 5 million
UNDP 2002 more than 5 million
Johannesburg Summit 2002 more than 5 million
Hinrichsen, 1997 12 million

Gleick estimates the death toll projection for a period between 2000 and 2020 in 3 scenarios, in his Pacific Institute Research Report titled “Dirty Water: Estimated Deaths from Water Related Diseases 2000-2020”;

  1. No action – Simple Proportional Projection, i.e., the base year (2000) ratio of deaths to Global population remains unaltered till 2020: Between 59 and 135 million people.
  2. No action – Relative Proportional Projection, which calculates deaths as a proportion of population without access to clean water till 2020: Between 52 and 118 million people.
  3. Millennium Goal Achieved (“To halve, by the year 2015…the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water): Between 34 and 76 million people.

I shall leave it to the readers to decide how world is faring against this silent, protest-less death toll happening every single minute, minute for minute for decades.

Every single death included in those numbers is preventable.

Feature Image Courtesy: Million Face

*Published in TH!NK Water as A Silent Killer

AUTHOR: Pabitra Mukhopadhyay
E-MAIL: mukhopadhyay.pabitra [at]


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