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Clean vs Dirty Water - What are the effects on our bodies?

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Clean water is a basic human right. What does this mean? This means that by virtue of being human, each one of us qualifies to have clean water accessible to us at any time we please. But what exactly is clean water? How is it that water that is considered clean and edible in one part of the world isn’t considered the same in another? In this blog, we go back to the basics and explore how clean water is defined, what are the implications of its lack thereof, and the effects of drinking dirty water on our bodies.

What’s the difference between Clean and Dirty Water?

Water is life. Meaning, it is the most basic element necessary to survive and sustain life. We need water to drink and prepare food and almost all other domestic uses i.e. washing our clothes, cleaning the home, bathing, brushing our teeth, washing dishes. Needless to say, the water we use for all of these purposes ought to be clean. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) defines clean water as “water that will not harm you if you come in contact with it.”

This definition paints a sharp contrast to the effect ‘dirty or polluted water’ has on rural communities Project Maji works with in Sub-Saharan Africa. Left with no option but to draw water from open polluted sources such as ponds, swamps, dry riverbeds and even puddles, this water is dangerous. Communities report frequently falling sick from water-borne illnesses such as cholera, bilharzia, typhoid and various skin conditions. In addition, dirty drinking water sets in motion a vicious cycle of disease that leads to increased medical expenditure, loss of productivity and supplementary income, often even leading to debt, pushing families into an inescapable poverty trap.

Difference between fresh water and potable water

A key concept in this discussion is also the difference between fresh and potable water. The simplest way to understand this is that fresh water is ‘the natural water occurring on earth’s surface in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, icebergs, ponds, lakes, rivers and underground water’ (Source). This water might not necessarily be suitable for consumption as it might contain micro-organisms and bacteria that cause disease.

However, potable water “also known as drinking water, comes from surface and ground sources and is treated to levels that that meet state and federal standards for consumption” says, Water Education Foundation. Thus, it is clear that drinking raw untreated surface water is not advised as it might cause a variety of health problems. More on why clean water is important:

What is Safe Water? Why is Clean Water Important?

At Project Maji, we pride ourselves for providing sustainable safe water access to the world’s most remote rural communities. But let’s take a closer look at what safe water is: Safe drinking water means water which has sufficiently low concentrations of microbiological, inorganic chemical, organic chemical, radiological or physical substances so that individuals drinking such water at normal levels of consumption, will not be exposed to disease organisms or other substances which may produce harmful physiological effects (Source)

How does Project Maji ensure that all our 120+ solar-powered water access points serve safe water? It’s simple! Before we enter a community, we perform a hydrogeological assessment. All our water is tested against local government & WHO standards prior to installation, to ensure that this water is fit for consumption. In addition, we provide a simple chlorination

treatment to the beneficiary communities (in specific sites). Our post-impact studies show that communities report considerable health improvement after receiving safe water via our safe water access points.

However, improved health is only one of the many life-changing differences that safe water delivers in the lives of those we serve. With the disease burden removed, communities report a significant decrease in medical expenditure. Women & girls no longer walk miles on unsafe routes to collect water for their families. With the water burden washed away from their shoulders, girls return to schools, while women are free to take up jobs or just be full-time mums. Clean water truly changes everything! Here’s a quick snapshot of the life-changing ripple effect it entails.

What are the Effects of Drinking Dirty Water?

Dirty water is dangerous. UNICEF reports that dirty water kills more children each year than all forms of violence combined, including war.

Premature death

It is the leading killer of children under the age of five. However, much like the positive ripple effect of clean water goes far beyond the physiological aspect, dirty water also sets in motion a domino effect that makes lives difficult for rural communities.

Negative impacts on education

Dirty water consumption leads to a disproportionate increase in the caring burden for women and girls. Young girls are often pulled out of school or drop out because they need to act as care-givers to ailing family members battling with water-borne illnesses.

Loss of family income due to poor health

Families lose disposable income either because the bread-winners fall too sick to work and earn wages or because the medical expenditure drains family resources.

How can we negate these negative impacts?

Project Maji is working to change this in the world’s most remote rural communities. We see communities thrive after receiving clean water. We invite you to join us in this life-changing mission and bring sustainable access to safe water for those in need.



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