Clean water is essential for human life.

But very often the sources of water that people drink from every day contain deadly chemicals and pathogens.

These contaminants lead to major health problems across the world.

Cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and many other water related diseases kill millions of people each year.

Children are especially vulnerable to these illnesses.

Contaminants such as arsenic, fluoride, and heavy metals can lead to long term health problems.

Fortunately, this is a preventable problem.

Natural Contamination

Many things can contaminate the water we drink.

Some of these pollutants occur naturally in the environment.

In Bangladesh, tube wells dug to tap groundwater aquifers were found to have elevated levels of arsenic.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring contaminant. When ingested at high levels, it can cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, and possibly diabetes.

It can also cause lesions on hands and feet.

Some estimates suggest that more than 35 million people in Bangladesh drink well water with unsafe arsenic levels.

Officials in Bangladesh are challenged to identify arsenic contaminated water and educate citizens to its health hazards.

Human and Animal Waste

Drinking water can also be contaminated by preventable human pollution.

In Cambodia, only 17 percent of the population uses adequate sanitation facilities.

Most of the rural population still uses fields or water sources for defecation.

Human and animal wastes, when improperly disposed of spread viruses, bacteria, and parasites that wreak havoc on human health.

As a result of poor sanitation practices, Cambodia has one of the highest death rates for infants and children under five in Asia.

International aid organizations have attacked this problem by building latrines in schools and promoting good hygiene practices in rural villages.

These efforts aim to educate the next generation of Cambodians to protect their water sources from contamination and to keep themselves healthy.

Agricultural and Industrial Pollution

Agriculture and industry also contaminate the world’s waters.

In China, rapid industrial and agricultural growth has had a devastating effect on water sources.

Some reports estimate that 70 percent of the nation’s rivers and lakes have become seriously polluted.

Industrial and mining wastes can introduce heavy metals and other contaminants to water supplies.

Farms depend on nitrate-rich fertilizers and chemical pesticides to boost crop production—but they can also poison drinking water.

Today, China faces the mounting challenges of identifying the causes of water pollution and cleaning this water for consumption.

Treatment Technologies

For most types of contamination, treatment technologies can be applied to purify water for human consumption.

Many different technologies exist, and they are often combined for more effective purification.

In most urban areas, treatment is applied at the source in water treatment facilities.

If the distribution system is well maintained, clean water can be provided to thousands or millions of people.

In rural areas that lack adequate distribution systems, treatment can be applied at the point of use using household treatment technologies.

Some of these technologies are fairly low cost and are used in areas around the world.

Some common treatments used in the developing world include chlorination, filtration, and solar disinfection.

With many treatment options available, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

People working together to apply solutions in their communities can lead to rapid improvements in water quality and healthier lives.