January 2008, Vol. 20, No.1

Water Volumes

Healthy Waters — What Every Health Professional Should Know About Water

Bart Van der Bruggen

Mike Magee (2005). Spencer Books Inc., 56 Hillside Road, Woodbury, CT 06798, 160 pp., $19.95, ISBN  1-866-543-5140  .

It is not a secret that water and public health are closely related. Nevertheless, we tend to look more at the technological aspects, rather than the consequences, of water availability and water quality. This book looks at the other side and, specifically, how public health in all its aspects is influenced by water. The author describes various aspects of this issue in a personal way, based on facts and figures. All these aspects are organized in compact, well-documented chapters.

The first two chapters are quite general and provide basic data on the water cycle, water usage, and scarcity. The following chapters describe how water is related to health, agriculture, industry, energy production, and the development and growth of cities. The starting point is always a quantitative evaluation of water-related phenomena.

For example, in the chapter titled, “Water and Health,” the author notes that the average human needs only 2.3 L/d of water to survive, but our daily diet derives from an investment of 3000 L/d. He points out that 10% dehydration would immobilize us, and at 12% dehydration, we would not survive. Continuing from these numbers, the author outlines global differences in water availability and the presence or lack of sanitation. Along the way, some of the consequences are thrown into the discussion — for example, the fact that 6000 children in developing countries die every day from waterborne diseases. In short, the subject is treated on the basis of facts but described in a personal and stimulating way.

In some cases, cited numbers are not entirely clear or can be interpreted. Some additional explanation would have solved this problem. Some tables are incomplete in the chapter on “Water and Cities”: A list of large cities is given, with only every 25th city from the size ranking mentioned, which is not useful but definitely illustrative. Then again, this is not a collection of data but rather a compendium of ideas about the importance of water.

The final chapter focuses on the difficult topic of water pricing and contributes to the global debate on privatization, which was already relevant in ancient Egypt and is still unsolved. The author concludes with a discussion of the integrated water resources management concept, in which most of these aspects are considered.

Bart Van der Bruggen is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Leuven (Belgium).