In the October issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, James Hughes and Jeffrey Koplan discuss the problem of safe water. Hazardous drinking water and poor sanitation is something that gets brought up when there’s a disaster (like Katrina, or the tsunami earlier this year), but many people don’t realize that a large portion of the earth’s population has to deal with this situation everyday.

Unsafe water is a global public health threat, placing persons at risk for a host of diarrheal and other diseases as well as chemical intoxication. Unsanitary water has particularly devastating effects on young children in the developing world. Each year, >2 million persons, mostly children <5 years of age, die of diarrheal disease. For children in this age group, diarrheal disease accounted for 17% of all deaths from 2000 to 2003, ranking third among causes of death, after neonatal causes and acute respiratory infections. Severe, prolonged diarrheal disease can also lead to malnutrition and impaired physical and cognitive development. Nearly 90% of diarrhea-related deaths have been attributed to unsafe or inadequate water supplies and sanitation --conditions affecting a large part of the world's population. An estimated 1.1 billion persons (one sixth of the world’s population) lack access to clean water and 2.6 billion to adequate sanitation.

(Emphasis mine). Just incredible. The rest of the article discusses activities targeted at addressing this travesty, but notes:

The United States currently ranks last among the 22 member countries of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in net official development assistance provided to developing countries, when such assistance is measured as a percentage of gross national income.

Again, this is an area where you can use your voice and your vote to help make a difference. For the amount of money spent on projects like this, the benefit is enormous.