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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lack of access to clean water and inadequate sanitation kills nearly 4,000 children worldwide, every day. WHO estimates that half the people in the developing world have one or more water-borne diseases.

Water woes

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lack of access to clean water and inadequate sanitation kills nearly 4,000 children worldwide, every day.

WHO estimates that half the people in the developing world have one or more water-borne diseases. One of the most serious is roundworm infection, which can cause serious anemia, gastrointestinal problems, malnutrition, and heart disease when contaminated drinking water is consumed.

Schistosomiasis or bilharzias (pronounced bill-HAR-zi-a), caused by parasitic worms, results from swimming or wading in fresh water contaminated by human waste. The parasites burrow through the skin and can infect the liver, intestine, bladder, or brain.

It is a sad irony that many foreign-funded developments produce easier access to water, but not cleaner water. Mega-dams are often used to encourage irrigation but result in slow-flowing, easily contaminated water.

One way to provide clean drinking water is through slow sand filtration. A simple and easily maintained design consists of a concrete shell filled with graded sand and gravel, with water exiting from the bottom via a plastic pipe.

You can follow the lead of Rotary International by donating to Pure Water for the World (purewaterfortheworld.org), helping them supply low-cost and easily maintained water filtration systems to the Third World.

Malnutrition and bacterial infection
Newspapers and magazines are filled with stories on exotic diseases, but these might not be the biggest danger to children. A study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that in parts of Kenya with a high incidence of both malaria and HIV, unrelated bacterial infections were still the most important cause of death. The main risk factor identified was malnutrition.

The authors question whether the narrow disease-focused approach to public health in poor nations is appropriate. It would make much more sense to find ways to both increase the quantity of food that children get and ensure that they receive an adequate variety.

A recent study in South Africa showed that food choices are often weighted to what is cheapest, least perishable, and most convenient. Corn meal, tea, sugar, and oil were the most commonly purchased foods. Intake of green vegetables, fish, and whole grains was low and was probably responsible for the observed deficiencies in vitamins and minerals such as zinc and iron.

You can help by supporting aid organizations that recognize the importance of indigenous agriculture as well as education in farming techniques and nutrition.

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