Pooling together resources for safe water policies

Aug 17, 2016


Ashley Latimer
Senior Advocacy and Communications Officer, PATH

Sweltering summer heat is in full swing here in Washington, DC, and many of us are seeking relief at the neighborhood pool. This year, with a baby to introduce to the pool, it's been a whole new experience. No longer can I throw a towel into the bag and settle in with a good book. Instead, I have to think about pool toys, baby sunscreen, and the rules for baby swim diapers. Rules for swim diapers, you ask? There are many.


However, as I did my research to ensure my wee one was appropriately clad with the right swim diaper underneath a water resistant “outer” diaper (I kid you not), I was struck by the irony of double protection in already chlorinated water that is only intended for swimming.  Of course we all swallow the occasional mouthful of pool water, and no one wants to swim next to a baby's latest poop. I am grateful for these policies - and the procedures in place for when someone's diaper doesn't quite hold up.  But if we can manage all this attention for policies and rules for a swimming pool, can't we put some of that same protective effort into water that people are actually going to drink?


Globally, 748 million people lack access to improved drinking water and WHO estimates that 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated. Forget the child who pees in the chlorinated pool, we're talking water intended for drinking that contains feces.  You don't need me to tell you that this can lead to all sorts of illnesses and diseases, not to mention the general poor health that results from repeated illness and infection. 


Many people live in countries where there are policies about clean water, laws about sewage and sanitation, and enough rules about pool diapers to make your head spin. But the majority of people live in countries where such policies do not exist - or are inadequately funded for implementation. Too many people - many of them women and children - continue to suffer the short and long term consequences that result from a lack of clean water (and a dearth of improved sanitation facilities). And those consequences aren't just health-related; they're cultural, social, and economic. 


Ensuring access to clean water is no easy task. If it were a simple solution, the world would have figured it out already. The reality is that each community may need a slightly different solution, something that works for their culture and environment. However, the need for policies to govern these issues is consistent. When policies exist, governments can be held accountable, and citizens and communities can advocate for their rights to clean water.


In a world where we can manage to govern the clean (and chlorinated) water of swimming pools, why is it we can't manage access to clean water for the world's 748 million people who continue to go without?  Access to a clean chlorinated pool is a luxury. Access to safe drinking water is a human right. If we can ensure our kids are safe and clean as they splash in the pool, we can certainly ensure that the world's children are safe when they're born, when they're thirsty, or when someone makes them dinner. Clean water isn't a question: for many families and communities, it's the answer.