A cool, refreshing drink of water is something many people take for granted. Up until about 100 years ago we didn’t have access to safe drinking water. In fact, it was often dangerous.
For thousands of years, people all over the world tried to filter and purify drinking water. It wasn’t until the 19th century that scientists discovered germs and learned that they could carry disease through water and other media. Filtering wasn’t enough.
Waterborne illnesses such as cholera and typhoid once killed thousands of Americans each year. During the four years of the Civil War, for example, 75,000 people came down with typhoid, and more than 27,000 died from it. In 1900, typhoid claimed another 25,000 lives.
In the early days of the 20th century, chemists found that adding small amounts of chlorine to drinking water destroys bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing microorganisms.
In 1908, Jersey City and Chicago became the first U.S. cities to use chlorine to help provide safe drinking water. By 1941, chlorine disinfection was being used by 85 percent of U.S. water treatment systems, and typhoid was nearly eradicated.
In a report called “The History of Drinking Water Treatment” (2000), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that “it was disinfectants like chlorine that played the largest role in reducing the number of waterborne disease outbreaks in the early 1900s.”
Today, most water systems in our country rely on chlorine disinfectants to provide some of the safest water in the world.
Around the world
Not everyone is as fortunate as we are. Right now, 1.1 billion people worldwide still don’t have access to clean water. Every year, infectious diarrhea spread by contaminated water kills nearly 2 million people, mostly children under five years old.
To get water every day, women and girls in the village of Garin Makaka, in Niger, Africa, must draw water by hand from hand-dug wells about 250 feet deep. Then they must carry it in clay pots that, when full, weigh more than 40 pounds. They make the nearly mile-long trip four to five times a day – all to get water that is unclean and can bring diarrheal illnesses to the village.
That’s why the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC’s) Chlorine Chemistry Division is part of the West African Water Initiative (WAWI), a partnership of 14 organizations working to increase access to water supply and sanitation in Ghana, Mali and Niger. Along with the World Chlorine Council, ACC is providing funds and materials to help build permanent safe water systems for small communities in developing countries.
ACC and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have announced a two-year, $1.3 million partnership to implement household-based drinking water programs in communities facing some of the most severe poverty and health challenges in the world. The USAID-led programs use chlorine-based disinfection and safe water storage techniques to disinfect and store water in individual households. This can dramatically improve water quality and reduce diarrheal illnesses in vulnerable populations by 50 percent.
How to help
Here are some ways individuals can help with the water problem.
Click. Visit AmericanChemistry.com/100years and take the Clean Water Challenge Quiz. For each correct answer, ACC and its global industry partners will contribute the estimated cost of enough chlorine tablets to disinfect 100 liters of water. With a total commitment of $200,000, ACC’s goal is to help contribute enough tablets to disinfect 100 million liters of drinking water. USAID estimates the program will reach three million people during a two-year period.
Gather. If you’re part of a book club, church or civic organization, PTA or other group, hold fund raisers to help support the clean water efforts of WAWI and World Vision. Donate the money to the Chlorine Chemistry Foundation fund (see: ChlorineFoundation.org), or use it to shop the World Vision gift catalog. It has a number of ways to help supply clean water – everything from buying a share of a local well to contributing to the general Clean Water Fund. Visit WorldVision.org to donate or see the online catalog. This is a great way to get children involved in their world, too.
Host. Bring friends and family together for a Global Dinner. Prepare and share traditional foods from different countries while introducing others to the clean water needs around the world. World Vision has recipes and ideas to help you get started. Visit WorldVision.org for more.