Environmental Health

Water and Sanitation, Economic Burden, Inequality, Poverty

Water Risk Perception and the Use of Water Bottles

~Written by Joann Varickanickal (Contact: joann.varickanickal@gmail.com)

It is important to examine how social, organizational and cultural factors of the environment interact to influence health (Laverack, 2014). This has become increasingly evident as water quality and quantity is assessed to determine its impacts on the health of a community. As water is vital to human health, access to clean tap water is important; however, bottled water is often seen as a better alternative to tap water; especially in less developed regions. Many people in low-resources countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan, believe that bottled water is better than their tap water (Massoud, et al., 2013). However, the bottled water is not always effectively monitored for safety, and many are still at risk for various waterborne diseases. Thus, citizens face economic strain to pay for water that is perceived to, but may not be cleaner (Massoud et al., 2013).

Even when bottled water is cleaner than the local tap water, the poor are often unable to afford it, which further increases the gap between the different social classes (Massoud et al., 2013). Citizens should not have to pay for something that is a human right (Parag & Roberts, 2009). Encouraging the use of tap water pushes NGOs and government agencies to improve infrastructure that would make water available to all regardless of social class (Massoud et al., 2013)..

Although tap water in developed regions such as Canada is clean and reliable, bottled water is still popular as it is often purchased for convenience (Mikhailovich & Fitzgerald, 2014). Although the socio-economic implication of using plastic water bottles may not be as severe in such settings, there are still negative environmental consequences (Parag & Roberts, 2009). Manufacturing, packaging, transporting and disposing plastic water bottles is an inefficient use of resources and creates a large amount of waste (Parag & Roberts, 2009). This can have a negative impact on the ecosystem, as this waste can influence plants, animals, minerals and water (Parag & Roberts, 2009). As these systems interact with humans they eventually have a negative impact on the health of a population (Parag & Roberts, 2009). Thus, encouraging the use of re-usable water bottles encourages environmental awareness.

Nevertheless, non-reusable plastic water bottles have been beneficial for emergencies when clean water is not easily available (Canadian Bottled Water Association). With the gradual discontinuation of these bottles, alternative methods need to be determined to ensure that clean water is distributed during emergencies.

Overall, clean water is vital for human health, and easy accessibility is crucial. Thus, clean tap water must be made available and plastic bottles should be phased out in order to allow for greater use of re-usable bottles. This would be a lower burden on the environment, and decrease wealth inequality, consequently, having a positive impact on the health of citizens. 


Laverack, G. (2014). A-Z of health promotion. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Massoud, M. a., Maroun, R., Abdelnabi, H., Jamali, I. I., & El-Fadel, M. (2013). Public perception and economic implications of bottled water consumption in underprivileged urban areas. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 185, 3093–3102. doi:10.1007/s10661-012-2775-x

Mikhailovich, K., & Fitzgerald, R. (2014). Community responses to the removal of bottled water on a university campus. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 15(3), 330–342. doi:10.1108/IJSHE-08-2012-0076

Parag, Y., & Roberts, J. T. (2009). A Battle Against the Bottles: Building, Claiming, and Regaining Tap-Water Trustworthiness. Society & Natural Resources, 22(7), 625–636. doi:10.1080/08941920802017248


Climate Change, Disease Outbreak, Infectious Diseases, Poverty, Water and Sanitation

The Environmental Cost that Living in this World Puts on Our Health

~Written by Sarah Khalid Khan (Contact: sk_scarab@yahoo.com)

As revolting as it sounds, there are places in the world where the chances of consuming one’s neighbours’ faeces are quite high if one is not vigilant regarding sanitation and hygiene. That being the condition of many areas in low and lower-middle income countries does not mean that high and higher-middle income countries are exempt from any environmental conditions that are harmful to health.

But, what is environment health? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the term as, “All the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviours”. It, however, excludes genetics and the social and cultural environment.

In low-income settings, concerns for environmental health may arise in the context of sanitation and hygiene, as well as indoor and outdoor pollution. In high-income countries, many chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are associated with sedentary lifestyles. While these might be attributed to behaviour, one must consider that such behaviours can arise from changes in the environment. Over 80% of communicable and non-communicable diseases can be attributed to environmental hazards.  Overall, conservative estimates indicate that about one quarter of the total global burden of disease is owing to this cause (WHO, 2011). Furthermore, the biggest killers of children under 5 years are all environmental-related diseases, including diarrhoea, respiratory infections, and malaria.

Other diseases of concern are helminthic infections, trachoma (a bacterial eye infection), Chagas disease, leishmaniosis, onchocerciasis, and dengue fever. All of which are associated with impoverished conditions and can be mitigated by improving sanitation, hygiene, and housing. Although conflicts and natural disasters might be catastrophic for any country, struggling economies tend to suffer more because disasters worsen the poor conditions which directly affect sanitation and hygiene practices, creating conducive conditions for various infectious diseases, and ultimately feeding into the vicious cycle of poverty.

Many interventions are underway to address these conditions, including Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives, Integrated Vector Management, Programme on Household Air Pollution, International Programme on Chemical Safety, Health and Environment Linkages Initiative, and Intersun Programme for the effects of UV radiation. The acknowledgement of the effects of the environment has grown. One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was, “To ensure environmental sustainability.” The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are more extensive and thorough in placing focus on the environment. Goal 1 is to end poverty, goal 6 is to make provision of clean water and sanitation possible, and goal 13 is to stop climatic change resulting in floods and drought (United Nations, 2014).

The Sustainable Development Goals. Source: United Nations System Staff College

It is encouraging to see steps being taken to control environmental hazards; however, the journey to measuring and eradicating such conditions still remains a challenge, which will hopefully be overcome through future endeavours.


United Nations (2014). Sustainable Development Goals. doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

World Health Organization (2011). WHO Public Health & Environment Global Strategy Overview