Billions of lives depend on access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation facilities. Without these things, human society is at risk: unsafe waterwhether for drinking or production services is often tied to diseases, crime, and even death.
Various factors impact water quality, including pollutants, overpopulation, climate conditions, and safe and functioning sanitation systems. Safe and available water supports personal safety and economic stability, yet current world water statistics are grim: the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that an estimated 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, a figure representing more than 35 percent of the world's population. Another staggering statistic: 19 percent of low and middle income countries do not have improved sanitation and 35 percent of low- and middle-income countries lack water.
While many people may take safe toilet sanitation for granted, the reality is that unsafe or restricted toilet access has a deep impact on the population at large, linked to approximately 700,000 preventable child fatalities every year, in addition to the millions of cases of diseases. In 2015, for example, UNICEF reported that diarrhea kills 526,000 children under 5 every year.
To that end, initiatives to raise safe water and sanitation awareness are more important than ever. The WHO estimates that by 2025, half of the world's population will be living in "water-stressed areas." The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports that water, sanitation, and hygiene have the potential to prevent at least 9.1% of the global disease burden and 6.3% of all deaths.
The good news is that global efforts aimed at raising awareness of the importance of safer water and improved sanitation systems are emerging, as highlighted through initiatives including World Plumbing Day on March 11, World Water Day on March 22, and South Africa's Water Month also held in March. And all year long, the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) Project Committee 305, sustainable non-sewered sanitation systems, works toward standardizing innovative technologies to improve the world's water crisis.
World Plumbing Day, March 11th
One initiative to drive awareness about sustainable water solutions is World Plumbing Day, organized by the World Plumbing Council (WPC). The forecast shows a 50-to-60-percent increase in global water demand by 2050, compounding water challenges, as misuse of clean water supply threatens water sustainability. The annual World Plumbing Day celebration spotlights leading efforts to achieve better sustainability measures, and serves to increase engagement about the importance of plumbing through suggested action items and ongoing activities.
WPC's educational video highlights water scarcity within the United States from congested California to drought in Detroit, to overpopulated regions of the world including India and China. WPC president Sudhakaran Nair explained how the WPC has plumbing associations from across the world work toward a common platform of protecting the health of nations through effective water management.
Founded in 1990, WPC has 27 countries representing 50 percent of the world's population dedicated to training and educating plumbers to facilitate better plumbing and sanitation for the world.
As part of its ongoing mission, the WPC works in partnership with several organizations, including IAPMO, a member and audited designator of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI); the World Skills Foundation; Healthhabitat; and RMIT University, on a new initiative called the Community Plumbing Challenge, which aims to involve plumbing practitioners from several countries for provision and upkeep of sanitation facilities in deprived sections of societies.
As these ongoing efforts progress, the WPC has published suggested guidelines to promote the World Plumbing Day message, including organizing special events, arranging for motions within state or national legislatures, promoting organizations' green roles, and setting up a visit at a local school to raise awareness around water safety.
For more information on World Plumbing Day, visit www.worldplumbingday.org.
World Water Day, March 22nd
World Water Day on March 22, calls attention to the importance of freshwater and promotes sustainable management of freshwater resources. Recommended by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) 25 years ago, the United Nations General Assembly officially launched World Water Day on March 22, 1993.
As each World Water Day underscores a specific aspect of freshwater, this year, the theme will be "wastewater." As the official site explains, "Globally, the vast majority of all the wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature without being treated or reused - polluting the environment, and losing valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials."
"Instead of wasting wastewater, we need to reduce and reuse it," the site explains. "In our homes, we can reuse grey water on our gardens and plots. In our cities we can treat and reuse wastewater for green spaces. In industries and agriculture, we can treat and recycle discharge for things like cooling systems and irrigation."
South Africa's Water Month
South Africa, through its Department of Water and Sanitation, recognizes World Water Month in March every year. More than highlighting sustainable water resources, South Africa is involved with various educational campaigns, including National Water Week, which focuses on the department's progress with regard to water delivery.
Initiatives will include a conference to address some of the major water and sanitation challenges faced by various states in Africa, and a UN World Water development report on freshwater resources 2017 will also be launched.
For more on this initiative, see the South African government website and calendar of water related initiatives.
ISO Project Committee 305
One area driving sustainability change is reinvented toilets, or non-sewered sanitation systems that can help prevent disease and death. These devices help remove pathogens and do not require traditional infrastructure such as sewers, water connection, or electricity. And these fixtures cost less than 5 cents per user, providing an opportunity for developing countries to utilize safer, cleaner, cost-efficient toilet alternatives.
An active group that supports this effort is ISO PC 305, Sustainable non-sewered sanitation systems. ISO PC 305 is currently at work developing an international standard for non-sewered sanitation systems, sometimes known as "reinvented toilet technology," which can ultimately help reverse the global sanitation crisis by removing pathogens without requiring traditional infrastructure, providing for cleaner and safer toilets on a global level.
An International Workshop Agreement (IWA) was published on September 1, 2016, serving as the base document for the development of the new international standard. The standard will be applicable to individual and small scale sanitation systems that are self-contained, meet defined discharge requirements, and aim for sustainability. The goal of this effort is to provide an efficient starting point for international standardization on a system to safely process human waste and recover valuable resources such as water, energy, and/or nutrients in an off-grid and non-sewered environment.
ANSI is the U.S. member to ISO, and ASN is the Senegalese member to ISO, and serve as the Secretariat to ISO PC 305, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to lead this international effort.