Public Health AffairsSafe and potable water is a human right [Archives:2005/874/Health]

September 5 2005

By Dr. Saleh Al-Habshi
Msc. in Public Health

Have we ever asked ourselves, why the majority of Sana'a's population is forced to drink refined water instead of drinking water from piping system? However this behavior has already become a phenomenon in many cities in Yemen, still there is a category of population who cannot afford purchasing refined or mineral water. There is a perception among the population of some cities that water is not safe, so they kept on using it for domestic purposes except drinking and cooking. There are justifications that support people's perceptions.

Water is essential for life next to air. It is possible to survive for prolonged periods without food, but survival beyond a few days or so is difficult, if one is deprived of water. Supply of safe and potable drinking water to the community is of utmost importance in maintaining positive health measures. It is a top priority for governments to take in consideration when establishing infrastructure of new cities.

While investors are making wealth and the number of refining factories of mineral water becomes bigger, the suffering of people is more and livelihood is worsened by increased prices and paying for a sip of water.

The outstanding problem is due to imbalance in setting priorities for the implementation of some infrastructure projects, mainly water supply system and sewage system. The previously mentioned two projects could not be constructed separately in different periods of time. While there is water supply system, there should be a sanitary sewage system.

Until the beginning of Ninetieth there was no complete sanitary sewage system in Sana'a and several cities in Yemen. Usually in urban and rural areas the importance is given to water supply either by constructing a project or traditional storage. Sewage system is ignored. It is expressed by sewage dug wells at the sides of dwellings in cities and villages, which are considered a source of contamination.

Now, what is the risk of drinking water contamination?

If Sana'a is taken as an example, the source of water supply is wells (underground water). Through a special pumping system water is obtained from wells to many supply stations in different districts. There it undergoes purification and chlorination processes to make it potable (these processes take place in cities only). Then it is pumped into a piping system to reach people for consumption. During this stage contamination occurs. The sewage dug wells scattered between houses, full of faeces and decayed matters usually leak in the surrounding

Water is pumped into the piping system under a certain pressure to reach every house. When the pressure inside the piping system falls due to many causes (interruption of water supply in some districts, unplanned random population settlements) taking in consideration damages in many old pipes, the leakage from sewage dug wells reaches inside the cavity of the piping system of water supply. When water is pumped again it carries all microorganisms and toxins that cause water-borne diseases (mainly diorhaea). A question will be raised, that water has undergone chlorination. Right, but in spite of that, millions of pathogenic microorganisms are available in a cubic milliliter of infected matters, and that high dose overcomes the chlorination process of water.

Thus water becomes contaminated and unsafe for consumption and could be a source of gastrointestinal infections.

Regardless of all recent efforts done by the Ministry of water and Environment in the construction of sanitary sewage systems in many cities particularly in the capital, still the role remains incomplete. A full coverage of this essential service should be achieved. Strengthening and expanding the coverage of water supply system is required. An efficient maintenance system for these infrastructure projects should be established under the inspection of a strong local authority.

A lot of work should be done by the government to regain the population's trust regarding water. Positive steps and evidence of change could change perceptions. Hence people's suffering would be alleviated.

And until that perception changes positively, opening the tap and taking a safe potable sip of water will be a dream.

But when that dream is realized please remember forever that water is a great wealth which we must not misuse…