WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 4, 2009 -- On July 29, the bipartisan Congressional Water Caucus and Water Advocates hosted a Capitol Hill Briefing on the vital linkages between safe drinking water, sanitation and global public health challenges. The briefing, titled "Water is Medicine," revealed that evidence shows inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are the developing world's largest cause of disease. WASH is also critical to sustainable progress across a broad spectrum of development needs -- from hunger to environmental degradation.
More than 25 diseases are caused by inadequate water and sanitation, creating nearly 10% of the global public health burden, killing more than 2 million people a year (including more children than AIDS, TB and malaria combined) and leading to 50% of the world's malnutrition. Each year there are more that 4 billion cases of diarrhea (a consequence of many of these 25+ diseases), killing 1.5 million people, 90% of whom are children under five.
Although Americans 100 years ago suffered from these same WASH-related diseases, today the US public is largely unaware of the extent and severity of the WASH crisis as few see the situation first hand. We easily flush away potential pathogens with a twist of a toilet handle and have clean safe drinking water at the turn of a tap. However, this is a global problem that Americans can do something about now -- the solutions may begin with just a borehole well or getting more children to wash their hands with soap. We have the technology and knowledge to solve this if there is an increase in political will and financing.
"The deaths and illnesses caused by unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation are arguably the world's most grave public health challenge; they are also the most solvable and preventable," Representative John Linder said in response to the briefing. "I am pleased that the Congressional Water Caucus co-hosted the Capitol Hill briefing entitled "Water is Medicine" and I am personally proud to be a co-sponsor of the Water for the World Act of 2009."
Jae So, Manager of the Water and Sanitation Program, addressed the economic costs of inadequate sanitation giving the example of Cambodia where 7% of GDP is lost. Also speaking powerfully to the standing-room-only audience were Christine Moe, Director, Center for Global Safe Water, Emory University and Rich Thorsten, Director of International Programs of the newly formed Water.org, co-founded by Matt Damon.
Rep. Linder, a co-founder of the Water Caucus, also commented, "The list of domestic and international policy issues that we will face in the 111th Congress is long and each issue will be competing for a spot at the top of the agenda. It is critical that we act to ensure that water resources issues are brought to the forefront of the political agenda. The United States has a great opportunity to take a global leadership position on this critical issue. Indeed, water scarcity and pollution affects everything from stability and security of communities and nations, human health, education, economic prosperity, humanitarian relief and stewardship of the physical environment."