Improving access to drinking water in the developing world through guided household water treatment and storage technology selection
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Beginning at least as early as 1977, the international community formally recognized that drinking water and sanitation were not a reality for large percentage of the world and that it was necessary to take action to change this. Over the following three decades more actions and agreements were made, each with a progressively acute awareness of the requirements to achieve this goal and the failures of previous attempts. Poor information sharing and underestimation of cost were identified as two of the greatest recurring impediments. The Millennium Declaration made in 2000 is the newest campaign to move towards this goal, among others, and provides a metric against which progress and success can be measured. At this point, great success has been made overall towards the Millennium Development Goals. Millions of people have gained access to improved sources of drinking water and several regions have surpassed their goals. Unfortunately this progress is not homogenous and the definitions of success are misleading. Sub-Saharan Africa is lagging significantly behind due to water scarcity, large population growth, urban versus rural disparities, and slow growth of piped infrastructure. Limitations to the sector as a whole have been identified as logistics, funding limitations, inadequate cost recovery, and inadequate operations and maintenance. Additionally, the metric of access to an "improved" source does not equate to safe drinking water and is not attached to sanitation improvements or overall health improvements. In further examining the financial aspects of achieving the goals, it is clear that there is a great deal of inconsistency. Many donors, whether public or private, international or local, are giving money to the development goals. But the money given is often not equivalent to the original commitment, not given to the countries with the greatest need, not given to the water and sanitation sector specifically, given in the form of loans which must be repaid, given to new large scale systems which are not always appropriate, or not sufficient to achieve the desired target. This makes it very difficult to achieve and sustain progress in the areas which have been difficult to reach thus far, including Sub-Saharan Africa. The need for progress toward safe water is clear from the perspective of health. Water is needed for hygienic practices, as well as consumption, and it is counterproductive to use water that is not clean. One of the leading causes of both death and disability worldwide is diarrheal disease which can largely be attributed to unsafe water. Studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between drinking water interventions and improved health outcomes, especially with increased proximity of the source, and for this reason there is an even greater need to tie the definition of success in improved water to overall health outcomes. It is also important that public health practitioners, engineers, and professionals from other related sectors work together to improve knowledge sharing and ultimately efficiency in achieving the goal of safe water for all. Point-of-use interventions are among the best approaches to delivering means of water treatment to unreached communities because they can be deployed much more quickly and easily than a traditional piped system, require less expertise, and reduce recontamination that may occur during transport and storage. Such technologies utilize a variety of mechanisms to address a range of contaminants and concerns. In order for any technology to be successful though, it must be accompanied by a method of safe storage as well as education, training, and continued external support. This information is synthesized in a technology selection guide, which attempts provide assistance in technology selection by addressing the immediate issue of water quality for the sake of health benefits, while also considering the context of the installation, the user preferences, the level of expertise of the implementers, the cost, operations and maintenance requirements, and common areas of failure. Simultaneously it allows for technologies to be compared so that the most appropriate technology may be chosen. The guide is marketed towards a non-technical audience with the intention of promoting knowledge sharing and serving as a translation between the developers of the treatment technology and those who implement it in developing countries.