What do water and child nutrition have to do with each other? Just about everything, when considering how often children come into contact with it. Bathing, drinking, eating produce and wearing laundered clothes are all instances where children come interact with water, let alone ingest it. Water is a life-giving source, and can contribute positively to nutrition in many cases, while leaving a trail of disease, infection or poor nutrition in other cases. In areas without access to clean water, children are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases, low immunity and poor consumption habits that take years to reverse.
Water Gives Life to Nutrients
Clean water fosters nutrition at the most basic level — it’s needed to create fresh food. In areas where communities grow their own produce, access to clean water has a huge impact on the quality of food as well as supplying children with the key vitamins and minerals they need to develop. This is pivotal for people living in food deserts — areas where there isn’t a place to regularly purchase fresh food — and communities that rely heavily on agriculture for sustenance.
Undernutrition can lead to a variety of health complications that impact child development long term. Children who lack proper nutrition can experience stunted growth, permanent intestinal damage and cognitive impairment, while female malnutrition over the course of many years can result in obstructed childbirth, putting mothers and their babies at risk.
Water Shapes Disease Prevention
One way in which ingesting toxic water is harmful to children is that it increases cases of diarrhea in children, which prevents their bodies from absorbing the nutrients in their diet. This quickly becomes a vicious cycle, as low nutrient uptake lowers immunity to infectious diseases like Zika, Ebola, malaria and other viruses present in underserved and impoverished communities. These viruses might seem distant, but the series of events that unfolded in Flint, Michigan, are proof that contaminated water can be harmful to anyone, anywhere.
Contaminated water is harmful even if children don’t consume it. Children and adults can develop inflamed skin, irritated eyes and respiratory issues if they are regularly using contaminated water to wash their hands, clean dishes, bathe or launder clothes. Repeated contact can have corrosive effects that lower immunity and increase risk of infections that lead to poor sanitation and hygiene.
Three ways to promote child nutrition through clean water
- Support international and domestic WASH programs. Nonprofits like Healing Waters specialize in water, sanitation and hygiene policies, and are dedicated to sustainable clean water advocacy in political, health and environmental sectors. You can donate time, money and resources or participate in social gatherings to help the cause.
- Promote multi-sector action. While clean water is a public health issue at its heart, change often requires civil rights and environmental policy. Collaborating with groups in a variety of sectors can help develop a contextual, effective approach that actually allocates money to the right people and places.
- Be a leader in your community. Everyone is a student, and everyone can be a teacher when it comes to discussions of wellness, health, and activism. Whether you are professionally invested in health, like a family nurse practitioner, or deeply committed to activism, starting a conversation about the importance of clean water can catalyze support.
A comprehensive look at consumption of water and food reveals how critical it is to have access to clean, healthy versions of these sources of life. It’s easy to take these for granted, but the most valuable part of privilege is using it to help those who lack it. Change is possible, through education, funding, and commitment of time and effort from people with resources and passion for clean water initiatives.