The country of Ghana recently announced a health victory—on July 28, it declared that it had eradicated the Guinea worm, a devilish parasite that is contracted by consuming unclean water containing microscopic water fleas that carry its eggs. In the 1980s, former President Jimmy Carter visited the country and witnessed a woman afflicted with the disease. (I will spare you the details of the parasite’s life cycle—suffice to say it is disturbing and extremely painful. Google at your own risk.) Appalled by what he saw, he took on the cause of eradicating the Guinea worm in Ghana.
After 23 years of passing out water filters, treating water sources with mild pesticides to kill the water flea hosts and educating villagers on the dangers of drinking untreated water, the country was able to celebrate the success of Carter’s efforts. Nonetheless, the Guinea worm remains a problem in several African countries, including newly formed South Sudan, which is home to 98% of the world’s cases.
Here in the U.S., it can be easy to take clean drinking water for granted. Municipal governments provide clean water right from the tap. Legislation such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate water quality to keep drinking water safe. POU and POE treatment systems are available for further treatment when needed or desired. Certifications assure consumers that these products are safe and reliable. Bottled water is widely available in the event that a drinking water source is compromised.
Many Americans in addition to Carter have taken on the cause of ensuring that communities around the world also have access to clean water. Even celebrities have been called to action. In 2009, actor Matt Damon co-founded Water.org, an organization that partners with local organizations in Africa, Asia and Central America to improve sanitation and access to clean water. This year, pop star Justin Bieber asked fans to donate to charity: water for his 17th birthday. He set a goal of $17,000, but fans rallied to raise more than $47,000.
While high-profile celebrities raise awareness of the cause, it is the stories of everyday people raising money for clean water charities that truly impress me. Some take on amazing challenges to bring attention to the issue, such as Sam McConnell and Mark Hakansson, friends from the UK who are embarking on a canoe trip through Britain’s canal system to raise money for Just a Drop. Some stories simply pull at your heart strings, such as that of Rachel Beckwith, a 9-year-old girl who asked friends and family to donate money to charity: water instead of buying her birthday gifts. She died in a car crash before she was able to reach her modest goal of $300. Her story inspired Wishing Well International Foundation to start a new fundraising campaign in her honor.
In many countries, waterborne illnesses like Guinea worm disease are a part of everyday life, whether due to lack of knowledge about sanitation or lack of access to clean water sources and water treatment equipment. It’s comforting to know that when concerns over contaminants, new or existing, arise in the U.S., the water treatment industry has the technology to combat them, or the resources and knowledge to develop new solutions. The more I learn about water quality, the more appreciative I am of this country’s ready access to treatment options—and the more inspired I am to help other countries achieve this as well. Whether by canoeing across the country or simply by making a donation, the water quality industry has the potential to make a difference to those that lack the access to safe drinking water that we so readily have.