“Take the example of a young woman in the Gambia who has to walk for hours every day to fetch water for her family. That’s a job but it’s not paid and it’s not recognised,” stated the Director General of the International Labour Organisation and Chair of UN-Water Guy Ryder while highlighting the plight of people working in the water related sectors, especially women.

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She is not alone; it is estimated that about 1.5 billion people work in water-related sectors proving Guy Ryder right when he said, “Water is work.”

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World Water Day

The year 2016’s UN Water Day theme is “Water and Jobs” with a focus on role of water quantity and quality in relation to creating jobs as well as the impacts it has on workers’ lives. World Water Day is observed every year throughout the world on March 22.

United Nations selects a theme each year to focus on important water related issues to highlight the present and future challenges and goals.

In his video message he stressed on the fact that water quality and quantity impacts workers’ health and life, and that safe water is necessary for the success of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Agenda.

Pollution — The Problem With Our Water

World’s water resources are under an increasing stress from anthropogenic activities like population explosion, urbanization, ever-growing pollution and increasing demands for agricultural and industrial uses. Around 70% of freshwater is used for irrigation, 20% for industry and 10% for domestic uses. The pollution load in water resources is also at the highest levels ever recorded in history and the fresh water resources are diminishing. Declining water quantity and quality have become a global issue with all nations bearing the brunt in one way or the other.

Presence of pathogenic microorganisms, elevated levels of teratogenic and carcinogenic chemicals such as Dioxins, 1-bromopropane, Formaldehyde, DDT and other pesticides, and heavy metal such as lead, arsenic, chromium, nickel and cadmium are some of the dangers of unsafe and polluted water which pose serious health hazards to workers due to their close contact with water during work. Water related causes such as poor sanitation and supply account for more than three hundred and forty thousand deaths of workers each year.

  • According to UN, about 2.5 billion people around the globe do not have adequate sanitation due to which every 20 seconds a child dies. More than 1 billion people practice open defecation which is an important factor in causing various water-borne diseases.
  • Millennium Development Goals Report 2012 showed that 11% of world population still does not have access to improved drinking water resources.
  • Unsafe water causes 80% of diseases in developing countries.

Thus the most important impact unsafe water has on human health includes but is not limited to diseases such as:

  • Bacterial infections (Botulism, Cholera, E. coli infections, Dysentry, Salmonellosis, Typhoid fever etc)
  • Viral infections (SARS, Hepatitis A, Polio etc)
  • Protozoal infections (Giardiasis, Amoebiasis, Cyclosporiasis etc)
  • Parasitic infections (Ascariasis, Taeniasis, Schistosomiasis etc)
  • Algal infections (Desmodesmus infection etc)

Water related vector-borne diseases are those that are transmitted by insects having aquatic immature or adult stages, the most common examples of such insects being mosquitos and blackflies, which cause malaria, filariasis, japanese encephalitis, yellow fever and dengue fever, and onchocerciasis

The problem of unsafe and insufficient water is not limited to underdeveloped countries only but is also prevalent in developed countries like the United State as shown by the Michigan Flint water crisis.

This crisis began in April 2014 when Flint shifted its water source to Flint River, which was later found out to be corrosive causing extremely high levels of heavy metals like lead to leach out from the water pipes exposing a huge population of the area to numerous hazardous health effects including miscarriages, liver and kidney issues and neurotoxicity.

What followed was several lawsuits being filed against the government officials for their negligence and various investigations into the matter have been opened.

US EPA has admitted to have responded slowly to the water crisis and said in a statement “While EPA worked within the framework of the law to repeatedly and urgently communicate the steps the state needed to take to properly treat its water, those necessary (EPA) actions were not taken as quickly as they should have been.” Since then several steps have been taken to mitigate the issue but with little success.

Water Pollution — A Modern Day Nemesis

The case of Colorado River in the Southwestern USA is another case of declining water quality and quantity but with a different cause. Almost entire water of this river and its tributaries is controlled by a system of dams and reservoirs and is diverted for irrigation and municipal usage resulting in large scale drying up of the river which has serious effects on its ecology and aesthetic value.

Increase in the concentration of certain minerals in the river causing salinity and the agricultural runoff of toxic substances entering the water are major issues making the water unfit for consumption.

Climate change is another factor threatening to cause major changes in the hydrological cycle further exacerbating the problem of declining water quality and water scarcity. The theme of Water Day 2016 is yet another but a little less known side of the multifarious issues related to water and this is exactly why there was a need to spread awareness about it.

Workers in the water industry need to be recognized, acknowledged and paid well. They need to be protected by basic labor rights as most of the workers’ basic labor rights are not respected even though they are universally applicable. Forced labor and child labor are common in water-related jobs like every other industry and usually no personal protective equipment is available for the labor to use.

The world nations should join hands to eradicate the problem of unsafe water and water security as well as provide better working conditions for the workers in this industry.