Like many people, I take my good health for granted. When people around me fall ill--with a stomach bug, for example--I make extra trips to my nice, clean bathroom to wash my hands with soap. If I am unfortunate enough to catch it anyways, I go to the doctor or pharmacy and start medical treatment. It is easy for me to stay clean, eat well, and access the medications needed to get better.
Most of the world does not have this luxury. Diarrheal diseases--which are usually caused by unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and/or poor nutrition--kill more children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. A vast majority of these deaths occur in the developing world, where toilets and clean water are luxuries, hunger is pervasive, and medicine is often inaccessible.
Even if a child survives, the disease leaves the child weak, and attending school becomes impossible. Without education, opportunities are limited. And all this assumes the child doesn't fall sick again, which is unlikely, as reinfection rates are high.
Thankfully, the world is increasingly aware of the dichotomy of recovering in the developed versus developing worlds. A myriad of organizations send doctors and nurses, donate medicine, or embrace other ways to treat preventable diseases like diarrhea. But treatment is not enough.
At the heart of it all is water. Healthy freshwater ecosystems provide the basis for clean water supply, flood control, food and numerous other services on which millions depend for human health and well-being. However, the projects associated with the aforementioned causes face their own set of challenges depending on how they are designed and implemented. When done poorly, taps run dry; toilets pollute drinking water; flood infrastructure increases communities' vulnerabilities to extreme events; and farms pollute and consume precious freshwater resources.
When done well, these projects help protect natural freshwater ecosystems, which improves the predictability and sustainability of adequate quantities and quality of water. Well-planned sanitation programs help protect freshwater and coastal ecosystems. In other words, health and environmental conservation are mutually dependent. The long-term sustainability of preventative health measures depends on the protection and responsible management of the broader watershed.
This is why World Wildlife Fund (WWF) partners with global companies like Johnson & Johnson and local NGOs to secure food and water for people in a way that's sustainable for both people and nature. Hidden amongst choppy blue-green waves, the Mozambique's Quirimbas Archipelago is home to rich biodiversity and poor communities. Here, WWF seeks to balance the diverse needs of many kinds of people with the health of the ecosystems on which they rely. Toilets, sinks, soaps and medicine are complemented by sustainable fishing and farming, health education and integrated conservation management. With our diverse partners, we build nutrition-health-environment linkages that result in long-term solutions.
Recovering one's health shouldn't be a luxury, especially for such preventable diseases as diarrhea. Learn more about how strengthening peoples' ability to conserve the natural resources they depend upon keeps both people and planet healthy.