Negosentro | 3 Water Supply and Sanitation Issues Affecting Developing Countries | Water is vital for human life in myriad ways. Sustainable supplies of clean water help safeguard human health, drive economic growth and development, alleviate poverty, keep the environment healthy, and promote peace and security in local communities. However, at present, billions of people around the world lack access to safely managed drinking water services, sanitation services, and even basic handwashing facilities. Developing countries, in particular, are likely to struggle with water scarcity, pollution, and other problems related to water supply and sanitation.
In today’s increasingly interconnected world beset by problems like climate change, the consequences of severe water stress are likely to extend far beyond local communities, with ripple effects on the national, transboundary, and even global levels. Investments in water infrastructure and sanitation facilities, therefore, are absolutely necessary to improve the water situation in developing countries. These initiatives must also come hand in hand with public policy that views water security and sanitation as major political priorities.
The following issues are among the most significant contributors to water stress in developing countries:
As a result of the rising global demand for water, both available water supplies and the quality of the water itself have diminished over time. The UN estimated that around 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year, a figure representing about two-thirds of the entire global population. Needless to say, the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by water scarcity.
Water scarcity may be physical or economic in nature. Physical water scarcity is when there are actual insufficient fresh water supplies to meet the demands of a particular place, including the healthy sustenance of local ecosystems. Arid regions like North Africa and Central and West Asia, for example, frequently suffer from physical water scarcity. Meanwhile, economic water scarcity arises from a lack of investment in the technology, infrastructure, and human labor required to support a healthy water sector.
In the Philippines, water infrastructure projects spearheaded by the government and private organizations are at the forefront of the effort to address economic water scarcity. These initiatives aim to reduce dependence on unsustainable water sources and instead bring more sustainable alternatives to the forefront. Most importantly, many of these projects are also geared toward improving access to water for the urban and rural poor.
Apo Agua Infrastructura Inc., a subsidiary of Aboitiz InfraCapital, for example, entered into a bulk water supply agreement with the Davao City Water District (DCWD) for their Davao City Bulk Water Supply Project (DCBWSP). Through this initiative, Apo Agua seeks to address the increasing water demand in Davao City by tapping the Tamugan River as an alternative and more sustainable water source. This will enable the DCWD’s current groundwater wells to rest, preventing over-extraction that can lead to environmental damage. The project’s water treatment facility will likewise run on renewable energy sourced from a run-of-river hydroelectric power plant.
Poor Water Quality
In addition to experiencing issues with access and availability, many communities in developing countries suffer from poor water quality. Water contamination in these locations is predominantly a result of pollution from human activities such as agriculture and industry. Common contaminants include heavy metals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (known colloquially as “forever chemicals”), pesticides, and herbicides. Severely polluted water is likely to be unfit not only for human consumption but for human use in general, including domestic, agricultural, and industrial applications.
Contaminated drinking water is a common vehicle for debilitating and even deadly waterborne diseases like cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, and many others. UNICEF reports that poor water and sanitation conditions account for no less than 71% of all illnesses in developing countries. Globally, diarrhea induced by contaminated water is a leading cause of death for children under 5 years of age.
Water pollution can be attributed to a number of different sources, including untreated or inadequately treated wastewater, urban runoff, and sewage discharges. Efforts to tackle this issue include significant investment in wastewater treatment facilities and more focused stormwater management in urban areas. Sustainability-oriented initiatives that promote green agriculture, prevent air pollution and reduce plastic waste also help address the problem of water pollution in developing countries.
Lack of Equitability in the Water Sector
As an essential and life-giving resource, water belongs to everyone, and everyone should be able to partake of its benefits equally. However, at present, marginalized groups such as women, youth, indigenous people, the elderly, and persons with disabilities have little to no power and representation in the water sector throughout the developing world.
To illustrate, fewer than one in five workers at water and sanitation utilities worldwide are women, and fewer than one in four managers and engineers in the broader water sector are women. Yet women, girls, and other people who menstruate are disproportionately affected by water stress and poor sanitation. Lack of access to menstrual products and safe hygiene facilities can severely compromise their health, safety, access to education, and ability to participate in public life.
To ensure that water can be equitably and sustainably shared by the whole population, water and sanitation initiatives and water-related public policy should be developed with a consciously inclusive approach. Increasing the participation of marginalized populations in the water sector at all levels stands to benefit not only the marginalized but the entire community.
Addressing water supply and sanitation problems is critical for improving productivity, health, and overall quality of life in developing countries. Governments and their private sector partners must commit to sustainable management and governance of water resources in order to develop functional solutions to these issues.