Education Resource

Diarrhea Kills 1.5 Million a Year in Developing World, but the Bronx Has Problems Too

Children wash hands at a child development center in Monohardi, Bangladesh. The centers are called "anchals," from the end piece of a sari mothers use to cover and carry their children (Photo by Jon Sawyer).

Children wash hands at a child development center in Monohardi, Bangladesh. The centers are called "anchals," from the end piece of a sari mothers use to cover and carry their children (Photo by Jon Sawyer).

This article is from a student at Lehman High School in Bronx, New York. Lehman participated in a series of visits with Pulitzer Center journalists leading up the High School News Literacy Summit at Baruch College in Manhattan.

Water, it is the world's most abundant element. Sadly, though, less than 2% of the water available is actually drinkable, not to say that you cannot use the other 98% or so for other things such as sanitation. But what if the problem is not finding the water, or not having any to drink? The actual problem in this case is having water that is easily accessible and clean, water that is not filled with waste that was improperly disposed of due to poor sanitation. As hard as it may seem to believe, this problem is occurring world wide, even here in the Bronx, and it can lead to serious health problems.

According to, only about 86% of the world has access to clean water and sanitation. That leaves about one out of every eight people that do not. According to some of their research, more people worldwide own phones than those who have access to clean water and sanitation. Clean water is defined as water that is safe to drink and use without the risk of immediate or long-term harm. Clean sanitation is the proper disposal of garbage and human waste, as well as a proper place in which to dispose of both, for example a toilet. On no occasion should a person have to come in physical contact with the waste.

As stated earlier, only 86% of the world population has access to clean water and only 62% has access to adequate sanitation. That leaves the other 38% with waste materials like garbage and human waste floating in their waters or in their streets. These poor conditions lead to serious health issues, most which have to do with a person's elementary canal. One such issue is cholera.

Cholera is an infection in the small intestines, which causes severe diarrhea and vomiting. This is caused by the consumption of unclean water and food. Cholera leads to severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and eventual death. This is a feared epidemic, which periodically hits central Africa, killing thousands of children, women and elderly alike.

The most common disease caused by the lack of access to clean water and sanitation is diarrhea. This is especially true for children five years and younger. According to, diarrhea kills about 1.5 million children in the developing world each year. That is more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Apart from diarrhea, any given person in a poor environment could be carrying up to 1000 parasitic worms in their bodies. These parasitic worms were ingested from the consumption of unhealthy water, food and overall poor hygiene.

So how does this relate to us? Here in the Bronx, the Bronx River is a great example of polluted water. The Bronx River is a river that runs 23 miles through the southern Westchester region. According to, runoff water from storms and melting snow ends up in the river. With it, the runoff water takes illegally dumped trash and other chemicals that were incorrectly disposed of. The same thing can be said about flushing down the toilet dangerous chemicals, like unused medicine. All that runoff ends up in our waters.

On April 8, 2010, the ABC news network reported a case of illegal trash dumping occurring in Wakefield, Bullard Ave, the Bronx. They had business man Jack O' Shea, a local resident show how he constantly ran into illegally dumped trash as he exited his building. The trash included over two dozen bags of garbage as well as construction debris. "All this got dumped here over the weekend. Construction debris, ceiling tiles, plaster and lathe," says witness O'Shea. The ABC channel placed monitors in the streets, which proved O'Shea's claims. O'Shea also claims that the sanitation department was notified, and still almost nothing was done about the trash. "Every Monday morning we call sanitation after the weekend. Sometimes they come, but more times they don't," says O'Shea.

Now add the illegal dumping of garbage to the natural runoff of water from storms and melting snow. What we are left with is a process, which refuels itself. In other words, the trash we dispose of incorrectly is being swept up by runoff water, which in turn washes the garbage into our waters. We take advantage of the fact that we have easy access to clean water and sanitation. This leads to carelessness when it comes towards keeping our waters and sanitation clean.