Liberia Decides 2017: The Question of Safe Water

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Switzerland has the best quality tap water in the world. Any glass of tap water anywhere in Switzerland is the same quality as bottled mineral water and is produced at nearly 500 times cheaper cost.

In October, Liberia decides. There will be much talk about education, the healthcare system and job creation. All great stuff, however, another issue also begs attention. Author Richard Bangs in his book Rivergods once wrote: “High quality water is more than the dream of the conservationists, more than a political slogan; high quality water, in the right quantity at the right place at the right time, is essential to health, recreation, and economic growth.

The issue of safe drinking water, dignified sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has to move beyond the state of being a mere “item on the to-do list” every time we run into a public health crisis. Safe, treated water has to be more than just something we turn to when we have to wash our hands to prevent the spread of another Ebola outbreak. Water is BASIC. It’s as basic as the air we breathe. Everyone needs it. The young, the old, pregnant women, children, the employed, the unemployed, the rich, the poor, the educated and uneducated — we ALL use water EVERY SINGLE DAY for one thing or the other.

Any serious candidate will have to touch on specific policy elements addressing jobs, education, youth empowerment and healthcare-NO DOUBT. Yet, in addition to these critical concerns, from a WASH perspective, the questions are simple: to the future leader of Liberia, how do you plan to give us SAFE water? How would we know the water is truly SAFE?

We may not get Swiss quality drinking water any time soon, but given the current state of Liberia’s fresh and groundwater supplies across the country, World Health Organization (WHO) quality is attainable. In light of the Sustainable Development Goal Targets for water, it’s time we moved beyond indicators measuring only “access” and focus also on securing sustainable, year-round “quality” across the rural and urban divide. Regular chemical and bacteriological testing of drinking water sources will help minimize the spread of water-borne diseases and significantly decrease public health expenditures for preventable illnesses including diarrhea and cholera. It will also provide concrete answers to this question we all ask ourselves: How safe is the water we drink?

In conclusion, creating greater “access” to treated, tested “safe” drinking water in a water-rich country with a population far less than 5 million is not rocket science. It can be done! The question now is: “Who will do it?”

Author’s Affiliation:

  • MSc Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health Cyprus International Institute
  • 2011 Harvard Cyprus Program Scholar

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