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Climate Change, Lack Of Sanitation Contaminate Water Sources: UNICEF

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Bringing safe water to millions around the globe is going to be a tough job with climate change and poor sanitation around, according to the UNICEF.

Based on data from new testing technologies, about 1.8 billion people may be consuming E.coli-contaminated water, which means the water — including those who have gone through improvements — have traces of fecal matter.

A primary culprit is poor sanitation, where 2.4 billion individuals globally lack proper toilets, a little fewer than 1 billion of which still observe open defecation.

And the challenge has become even bigger with climate change, where higher temperatures are expected to increase the incidence of waterborne illnesses such as dengue, malaria, and even Zika. In these environments, mosquito populations grow and expand from their original geographic reach.

Climate change is also seen to worsen fecal pollution in the water systems through increased flooding. With more flooding, there's more damage to water as well as sewage facilities, with feces spreading to water courses and leading diseases like diarrhea and cholera.

Last year as the era of the Millennium Development Goals reached an end, all but 663 million people worldwide had drinking water from improved sources. And there are now cheaper, more efficient water-testing methods.

"We are coming to terms with the magnitude of the challenge facing the world when it comes to clean water," says Sanjay Wijeserkera, who heads the global water, sanitation and hygiene programs of UNICEF.

The new data on water contamination, too, could jeopardize the Sustainable Development Goals, which plan to make clean water and sanitation accessible to all by 2030. The most vulnerable, warned UNICEF, are the almost 160 million children under age 5 who reside in areas high-risk for drought, along with half a billion still living in greatly high flood occurrence areas.

UNICEF is beefing up its global campaign to raise awareness on the water starting World Water Day on Tuesday and ending on the Paris agreement's signing this April 22.

Apart from this social media initiative, the group has implemented a number of projects to protect communities around the world.

In drought-plagued Kiribati, there are new rainwater-harvesting and storage systems in place to provide safe potable water, while in Bangladesh, an aquifer-recharge system captures monsoon water, purifies it and conducts underground storage.

"Nearly 20,000 children in Bangladesh now have access to climate and disaster-resilient sources of water [through this]," the UN office reports.

Photo: Jon Gos | Flickr

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