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The Philippines has a population of more than 100 million people, and of this number, 91% have access to basic water services. The figure hides the fact that access to clean water in the country is highly inequitable. This becomes apparent when comparing the fifth richest and poorest quintiles in the country. According to UNICEF, while 99% of the former can readily use basic water services, only 80% of the latter can enjoy the same benefits. The urban-rural divide is also a factor in this disparity: 97.5% of urban dwellers have access to at least basic drinking water, but only 91% of rural dwellers can claim the same.
Water infrastructure plays a key role in the distribution of this precious resource. With an adequately designed water storage, treatment, and distribution system, a community can supply much-needed drinking water to individuals and households. Aside from this, water infrastructure also incorporates public works that pump, transport, and divert water—capabilities that come into play not only during times of scarcity but also when there’s an abundance of water, such as during the monsoon season.
Communities that don’t have well-developed water systems, on the other hand, can experience a number of health, hygiene, and sanitation issues. The following are just some of the negative effects of poor water infrastructure.
Substandard Sanitation Practices
Supplying clean water is just one of the many roles of a water system, as this type of infrastructure is also designed to enable at least basic sanitation services. Communities that have access to an adequate water system not only have working faucets but working toilets too, among other water fixtures. Contrariwise, people who live in places with poor or no water infrastructure often lack the means to consistently carry out basic hygiene practices in a safe manner. At times, they might not have enough water to wash themselves, their clothes, and the tools they use for consuming food and drinking water. In places where there are no toilets or a wastewater collection system, open defecation can be a daily reality, and so can dumping wastewater in the environment. This can lead to the rise in soil and water pollution levels and the spread of diseases.
Increased Risk For Diseases
The inability to carry out good hygiene practices can have long-lasting health impacts on the community. Poor water supply and wastewater collection systems contribute to the spread of foodborne and waterborne diseases. Washing one’s hands is one of the most effective ways to curb the spread of diseases, but without water, people won’t have the means to keep themselves and their environment consistently clean. On the other hand, open defecation and the lack of a functioning wastewater collection and treatment system can lead to the contamination of water sources and contribute to the transmission of diseases like cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea. These diseases can have a devastating effect on the community and the healthcare system. For example, more than 3,770 people in the Philippines died due to acute diarrhea in 2019.
Inadequate Healthcare And Other Community Services
Healthcare facilities require a consistent supply of clean water to continue servicing their respective communities. Proper hand hygiene is essential in protecting healthcare workers and patients from transmissible diseases, for example, but this cannot be done in the absence of a consistent water supply. Without proper hand hygiene and other essential sanitation practices, hospitals and clinics can turn into hotbeds of infection rather than places for curbing the transmission of diseases and providing treatment and other health services. Medical professionals can end up catching diseases themselves, which will prevent them from providing their services to their respective communities. Such an event can happen in schools, community centers, and other facilities that are being actively used by the community as well.
Uncontrolled Flooding And Significant Economic Damage
Water systems also come into play when there’s an abundance of water, such as during floods. Communities with good water infrastructure have, to a degree, the capability to pump or divert excess water and control the danger that floods pose to life and property. Preventing or limiting the impacts of flooding can have long-term consequences on an area. People who are living in communities that are frequently devastated by flooding have to invest their resources in treating injuries and illnesses and fixing the damage caused by the event. In comparison, a community that has avoided flooding altogether can focus its resources on improving its inhabitants’ living conditions instead of addressing water damage and other issues caused by flooding.
Access to clean water is essential to maintaining a higher quality of life for people. And yet, according to 2017 data from UNICEF, 3 in 10 people or 2.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water in their homes. Moreover, 6 in 10 people or 4.4 billion people globally don’t have the option to use safely managed sanitation systems. It’s about time to increase the global effort in improving equitable access to water infrastructure. This is only possible with the continued cooperation of the private and public sectors and the general public.