The year was 1854, and London was in the grip of yet another outbreak of cholera –an intestinal ailment characterized by severe diarrhea and dehydration. The disease struck with alarming speed. Many who awoke in good health were dead by nightfall. There was no known cure.
It was the most feared disease of the century, and the cause remained a mystery. Some thought cholera was contracted by inhaling offensive odors from decaying organic matter. Their suspicions were understandable. The River Thames, which coursed through London, emitted a horrible stench. Did the foul-smelling air carry the disease?
Five years earlier, a physician named John Snow had suggested that cholera was caused, not by contaminated air, but by contaminated water. Another physician, William Budd, believed that a funguslike living organism carried the disease.
During the 1854 epidemic, Snow tested his theory by studying the lives of those who had contracted cholera in the London district of Soho. ‘What do they have in common?’ he wondered. Snow’s investigation led to a startling discovery. All who contracted cholera in that district had obtained drinking water from the same street pump. And that water was contaminated by cholera-infected sewage!
Although by 1854 flush toilets had been installed, an antiquated sewage system allowed human waste to flow down gutters and sewers straight into the Thames –a major source of drinking water.
That same year saw another medical milestone when Italian scientist Fillippo Pacini published a paper describing the living organism that caused cholera. For the most part, however, his research was ignored, along with the findings of Snow and Budd. The cholera scourge raged on –that is, until 1858.
World’s slums are growing, if the present rate continues, “ one in every three people in the world will live in slums within 30 years,” states The Guardian of London, citing a UN report. Sadly, “940 million people –almost one-sixth of the world’s population –already live in squalid, unhealthy areas, mostly without water, sanitation, public services or legal security.”
In the Kibera district of Nairobi, Kenya, there are about 600,000 slums dwellers. Anna Tibaijuka director of the UN human settlements program UN-habitat, says: “Extreme inequality and idleness lead people to anti-social behavior. Slums are places where all the evils come together, where peace and security is elusive and where young people cannot be protected”
One can survive for several weeks without food but only about five days without water! Up to three quarters of our body weight is water. For example, the brain is 75 to 85 percent water, and the muscles are 70 percent water. Among other things, water helps us to digest and absorb food, carrying nutrients to the cells. It removes toxins and other waste, lubricates joints and the colon, and regulates body temperature.
“THE GREAT STINK”
Parliament had been sluggish about building a new sewage system to clean up the Thames, but the heat wave that arrived during the summer of 1858 forced the issue. The stench from the river that flowed past the House of Common was so overwhelming that the politicians were forced to hang drapes soaked in disinfectant over their windows in an attempt to disguise the smell.
What came to be called the Great Stink pushed Parliament into action. Within 18 days, it ordered the building of a new sewage system.
Huge drains were constructed to intercept sewage before it reached the river and then to transport it to the east of London, where it eventually flowed into the sea on the ebb tide. The results were dramatic. Once all London was connected to the new system, the cholera epidemics ended.
By now, there was no doubt: cholera was not caused by foul air but contaminated water or food. Also clear was the key to prevention –sanitation.
Since cholera is a caused by contaminated food or water, the key to prevention lies in taking adequate precautions regarding anything that enters the mouth. Purifying water and thoroughly cooking food are essential safety measures.
Sadly, in some part of the world, homes still do not have an adequate sewage system. Excreta-related diseases cause death of some 5,000 children each day!
Human behavior may slow down progress in the eradication of disease. For example, scientists believe that human-inflicted damaged to ecosystems has resulted in new, dangerous diseases. Since the mid-1970s, more than 30 new diseases have emerged, including AIDS, Ebola, Lyme disease and SARS. Most of these are believed to have moved from wild-life to human populations.
Additionally, people are eating less fresh fruits and vegetables and more sugar, salt and saturated fat. This together with a decrease in physical activity and other unhealthy habits has resulted in more cardiovascular diseases.
Tobacco smoking is on the rise, causing serious health problems and death to millions globally. Every year some 20 million people sustain serious injuries or die as a result of automobile accidents. War and other forms of violence kill and maim countless others. Millions suffer ill health as a result of alcohol or drug abuse.
WATER FOR TOURISTS:
Many of the world’s resorts are struggling to cope with relentless waves of tourists, whose demands for ever more swimming pools and golf courses are sucking them dry. The issue is massive and global; sometimes you will see a village in Africa with a single tap, when each hotel has taps and showers in every room.
A global conservative organization calculates that a tourist in Spain uses only 250 liters. An 18-hole golf course in a dry country can take as much water as a town of 10,000 people. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimate that the water that 100 tourists use in 55 days would grow enough rice to feed 100 villagers for 15 years.
With about four billion cases every year, diarrhea is described as a major killer among the poor. It is caused by various infectious diseases that can be spread by contaminated water or food or a lack of good personal hygiene. These infections result in a yearly death toll of more than two million people