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Water – A Precious Resource | World Water Week 2019

Water – A Precious Resource | World Water Week 2019

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” – Jacques Yves Cousteau

What makes life possible on earth and not on other planets? It is the colourless, odourless liquid called water, the elixir of life. As significant as oxygen, water is quintessential for the survival of all the life on the planet earth. Making up nearly 71% of the earth's surface, 96.5% of this water is in the form of oceans. The amount of freshwater available to us is, therefore, very limited. Only 3.5% is available as fresh water, and its quality is under constant threat. Humans have proved themselves to be inefficient users of this precious resource. Preserving the quality of freshwater is, therefore, extremely vital for the continuity of drinking-water supply, production of food, and recreational use.

Looking into the statistics, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO ), 1 in 3 people do not have access to safe drinking water, and at least 2 billion people are bound to use a drinking water source polluted with faeces. Waterborne diseases are creating havoc in terms of healthcare costs and DALYs owing to the high morbidity and mortality rates associated with them. The diseases that are transmitted via water include but are not limited to diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, typhoid, schistosomiasis, and polio. Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 485,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year. According to WHO , it is estimated that by 2025, nearly half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. Availability of safe drinking water is critical to health, a basic human right and a component of effective policy for health protection.

Water Pollution:

Water pollution is one of the most serious ecological threats we are facing in the 21st century. Water pollution is the degradation of water quality due to dissolution and deposition of toxic substances, such as heavy metals, plastic and micro plastics, as well as various infectious agents. This not only threatens the existence of the aquatic life but also seeps through soil into the groundwater reservoirs, making it unfit for human consumption.

There are various types of water pollutants ranging from organic, inorganic, and radioactive.

Organic pollutants are bacteria and viruses that are present in the water, generated by manure, animal and vegetable waste.

Inorganic pollutants are the nitrates and phosphates of pesticides, drugs for human and animal use, household products, heavy metals, acids and hydrocarbons used in industries.

Radioactive water pollutants result from radioactive fallout from the cloud of a nuclear explosion, or from other such sources.

Preventing Water Pollution:

We all are accountable for today’s water pollution problem. Few simple ways can be adopted to prevent water contamination or at least limit our contribution to it. Below are some little actions to start with:

  • Decrease plastic consumption as much as possible.
  • Reuse or recycle plastic whenever you can.
  • Properly dispose of chemicals, oils, industrial waste, sewage and non-biodegradable materials.

Water Scarcity:

Water scarcity can indicate limited availability due to physical shortage, or restricted access because of a failure to guarantee a regular supply, stemming from a lack of adequate infrastructure. Water scarcity already affects almost every region of the world. It is estimated that over 2 billion people are living in countries experiencing high water stress (UN, 2018), and close to 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030 (Global Water Institute, 2013).

Prevention of Freshwater Crisis:

Freshwater is a valuable commodity, and it should be used with great care for the sake of our future generations. Some of the measures that can be adapted to preserve our water resources include:

  • Educating to change consumption and lifestyles
  • Inventing water conservation technologies
  • Recycling wastewater
  • Improving irrigation and agricultural practices
  • Appropriately pricing water
  • Controlling pollution & better sewage treatment
  • Developing energy-efficient desalination plants
  • Improving water catchment and harvesting
  • Sustainable water management
  • Holistically managing ecosystems

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in the Western Pacific Region:

Specifically talking about the Pacific region of the world, more than 14,000 people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene. Universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and adequate hygiene (WASH) services are essential for population health, welfare and development. Preventable water-related diseases claim tens of thousands of lives in the Western Pacific region. According to WHO, the Region made considerable progress between the years 1990 and 2015, with most of the countries achieving global targets for drinking water and sanitation. Still, nearly 90 million people in the Region do not use a basic drinking water facility, and more than 400 million do not use a basic sanitation facility. Sufficient, affordable and safely managed drinking water, sanitation, and improved hygiene behaviours can cut this number dramatically. In adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global community pledged to achieve universal coverage of safely managed drinking water and sanitation services and to eradicate open defecation by the year 2030.

Breastfeeding – Child Survival and Beyond

Breastfeeding - Child Survival and Beyond

World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), observed every year between 1st and 7th August, celebrates the significance of breastfeeding in the context of both child and maternal health. A completely natural process of nursing the newborn, breastfeeding is crucial for child survival and optimal growth and development later in life. Colostrum, or the first milk, is a perfect combination of both nutrients, and the antibodies (immunoglobulins), ensuring not only optimal nourishment and sustenance but also defense against infectious diseases. Breastfeeding, considered by many child health experts, is the single most effective strategy for prevention of mortality in children under 5 years of age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 40% of infants, under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. It is also estimated that if breastfeeding were scaled up to a universal level, 820,000 children would be saved every year.

POLHN has been playing an active role in advocating the importance of breastfeeding, in particular, with reference to the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). The Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) course offered by POLHN, is aimed at equipping healthcare workers with strategies for developing an increased understanding of the process of breastfeeding in order to help new mothers adjust to this highly crucial phase of life.

As POLHN’s free online course on breastfeeding highlights, breastfeeding is the preferred mode of infant feeding in almost all critical births and emergencies, such as:

  • Low birth weight (LBW) babies;
  • Premature infants;
  • Mothers living with HIV in surroundings with a higher death rate due to diarrhea and pneumonia;
  • Adolescent mothers;
  • Malnourished babies;
  • Families dealing with the consequences of multifaceted emergencies.

An Essential Nutritional Source

Colostrum, (the yellowish, thick liquid produced by mother’s mammary glands at the end of gestation), is the perfect food for the newborn. Breastfeeding should be initiated within the first hour of birth, often termed as the ‘golden hour’. The baby should be exclusively breastfed (only mother’s milk), up to the age of six months to achieve optimal growth and development. At the age of six months, complementary feeding should also be introduced in conjunction with breastfeeding. However, breastfeeding should continue for up to two years of a child’s life, or even beyond, if the need arises. POLHN’s breastfeeding basics online course also provides additional essential information and guidelines regarding infant feeding and care.

Milk has biological specificity; mammals produce milk that is tailored to fulfill the needs of their young ones. A growing baby has rapidly growing nutritional needs as well. The composition of mother’s milk is such as to meet these requirements at every stage. Human milk has just the right proportion of fats and cholesterol needed by the human baby along with lipase, the enzyme needed for digestion of fats (in diet). Cholesterol helps in brain development and production of vitamin DWhey proteins, and various vitamins and minerals are present in abundance in human milk. Breastmilk also contains antibodies, which protect the baby from various acute and chronic infections, such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

Breastmilk vs. Formula milk

Breastmilk is more beneficial to babies as compared to the formula milk. Breastmilk is a natural substance that the mother’s body produces for the nourishment of the newborn child. Formula milk may contain the basic vitamins, minerals, and proteins needed by the baby. However, it lacks antibodies that only the breastmilk can provide adequate numbers of. Children who are breastfed, are less likely to be obese later in their lives. Moreover, they have higher IQ levels, owing to better cognitive and sensory development.

Breastfeeding bears numerous benefits not only for the child but for the mother as well. Breastfeeding has a therapeutic effect on the mothers that results in relaxation when they feed their babies. Breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce the chances of development of various cancers in breastfeeding mothers, in particular, the breast and ovarian cancers, and prevention from postpartum depression, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. Increased breastfeeding practice has been associated with averting close to 20,000 maternal deaths every year due to breast cancer. Mothers who breastfeed, lose the weight they put on during pregnancy, faster than the mothers who do not. Breastfeeding is also considered to be a natural method for birth control (98% protection up to six months postpartum) and hence, child spacing.

Learning the Basics of Breastfeeding through POLHN

Pacific Open Learning Health Net (POLHN) is working in collaboration with the WHO to train health workers in the domains of infant and young child feeding and care.

In the Pacific Island Countries (PICs), nurses and midwives are often the first to provide support and assistance to the new mothers. Therefore, POLHN has chosen them as the ‘focus group’ in this regard, in order to ensure that they are trained to provide up-to-date and accurate information, primarily through the learning they gained from the POLHN’s free online breastfeeding training course, namely Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF).

Important Topics Covered in Infant and Young Child Feeding

POLHN’s online training course on breastfeeding can be accessed for free and is geared towards healthcare providers. It focuses on:

  • Malnutrition and different types of undernutrition grouped under this umbrella term.
  • IYCF and its role in child survival, child growth, and child development.
  • Breastfeeding, in particular exclusive breastfeeding, benefits of breastmilk, and what defines a good or bad attachment, as well as breastfeeding patterns and hurdles faced by breastfeeding mothers.
  • Complementary feeding practices in light of the WHO recommendations.
  • IYCF in the context of HIV/AIDS, the mother-to-child transmission (MTCT), and recommended IYCF interventions for both HIV-positive and HIV-negative mothers.
  • Impact of emergencies on IYCF and the various intervention strategies, such as re-lactation and provision of breastmilk substitutes (BMS).