Water issues in Mexico Brent Stirton/Getty Images

Water Management Is Health Management

Some 2.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe, readily available water at home, severely undermining health outcomes. With a growing share of the population also facing the effects of environmental degradation, integrated solutions that simultaneously advance conservation, water provision, and health have become essential.

LONDON – With climate change accelerating and its effects exacerbating other geopolitical and development crises, the role of environmental protection in preserving and improving human wellbeing has become starkly apparent. This recognition lies at the heart of the concept of “planetary health,” which focuses on the health of human civilization and the condition of the natural systems on which it depends.

The concept’s logic is simple: if we try to deliver better health to a growing population, without regard for the health and security of our natural resources, we will not just struggle to make new strides; we will reverse the progress already made. Where things get complicated is in applying the concept, particularly when addressing the nexus of water services, health, and ecosystem integrity.

Since at least 1854, when John Snow discovered that cholera was spread through contaminated water supplies in central London, humans have understood that polluted water is bad for our health. The degradation of freshwater ecosystems often brings disease, just as the protection or strengthening of such ecosystems improves health outcomes.

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