The Challenges of Sustainable Access to Safe Drinking Water in Rural Areas of Developing Countries: Case of Zawtar El-Charkieh, Southern Lebanon

By Massoud, May A.; Al-Abady, Abdolmonim et al. | Journal of Environmental Health, June 2010 | Go to article overview

The Challenges of Sustainable Access to Safe Drinking Water in Rural Areas of Developing Countries: Case of Zawtar El-Charkieh, Southern Lebanon


Massoud, May A., Al-Abady, Abdolmonim, Jurdi, Mey, Nuwayhid, Iman, Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

Water is a vital limited resource for human existence and the availability of adequate and safe water connects strongly with the sustainable development concept. Water plays a major role in enhancing economic growth, reducing poverty, attaining food security, and protecting ecosystems. Moreover, water is a critical component of public health, and failure to supply safe water will place a heavy burden on the entire population (Boe-Hansen, 2001). Although the 20th century witnessed great wealth and advanced development in many areas of the world, billions of people are still striving to access the most basic human needs: food, shelter, safe drinking water, and sanitary systems. Closing this gap requires the availability of safe water for more than 1.1 billion people and sanitary systems for 2.4 billion people worldwide (Howard & Bartram, 2003; World Health Organization [WHO] & United Nations International Children's Fund [UNICEF], 2000).

Water is subjected to biological and chemical contamination originating from many sources in the catchment area or during collection, storage, and distribution (Hansen, 2001; Howard, Ince, & Smith, 2003). Chemical and biological contaminants in water can cause many problems related to human health (diseases) or people's acceptance of water (a bad taste, odor, or color). Water-related diseases are either infectious (caused by pathogens) or noninfectious (caused by toxic chemicals) (Howard et al., 2003). While chemical pollutants in water can cause adverse health effects in the longterm, microbial pathogens can cause health effects within a short period of time.

Waterborne diseases are a great burden on both public health and the economy. Globally, four billion cases of diarrhea occur annually, of which 2.2 million are fatal (WHO & UNICEF, 2000). In developing countries, nearly 80% of all diseases are linked to water and sanitation (WHO & UNICEF, 2004). Children bear the greatest health burden related to poor water and sanitation. Diarrhea is a major cause of death among children worldwide, causing death of one in five children and 15% of all deaths in children under age five (Thompson & Khan, 2003; WHO & UNICEF, 2000, 2004; WHO, 2003). Furthermore, diarrhea causes 54 million disability-adjusted-life-years (DALYs) each year, forming 3.7% of the total global burden of disease (Howard et al., 2003; WHO, 2002). Improving water and sanitation conditions is a critical tool to minimize diarrhea (Hoque et al., 2006). Up to one-third of the cases can be minimized by an adequate access to water and sanitation and one-third can be reduced by washing with water and soap (WHO & UNICEF, 2000).

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In Lebanon, water resources are progressively affected by natural and anthropogenic activities (Massoud, El-Fadel, Scrimshaw, & Lester, 2006). It is estimated that 60%-70% of water resources are contaminated, with higher levels expected in the rural areas (Ministry of Environment, 2001). Moreover, rapid population growth in some areas was not associated with the required concurrent infrastructure development. As such, many areas are still suffering from water shortages. Improvements in sanitation and provision of water services continue to lag behind the needs of the population in almost all rural areas in Lebanon. In the village of Zawtar El-Charkieh, our study area in southern Lebanon, drinking water sources are anticipated to be microbiologically contaminated due to the absence of sanitary methods to dispose of wastewater. As part of an ongoing partnership between the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut and the municipality of the village, an initial assessment study of the quality of drinking water was conducted in summer 2007. Results revealed that water is microbiologically contaminated in more than 60% of the collected samples. Also, people were concerned about the potential effects on the water supply system in Zawtar El-Charkieh and other villages in southern Lebanon after the July 2006 war. …

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