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The Importance of Water All living things need water. The Earth is full of water. The problem is that people often live where there isn’t enough of it, and they too often waste the water they do have. Humans and other creatures must drink water. But it has many other uses. People use water to bathe, to brush their teeth, to build structures such as houses and schools, and to make products from toothpaste and paper to clothing and bricks. People waste tons of water, and they don’t even know it. People are wasteful. They leave the water on while brushing their teeth, take long showers, and use water to clean their driveways. That is really bad! There are many ways to save water instead of wasting it. People can turn off the faucet while brushing their teeth and take much shorter showers. They can use a broom instead of a hose to clean their driveways. You can also save water by having a full load of laundry instead of putting just a few items of clothing in the washing machine. You can save 40 gallons of water by doing that! People need to change their wasteful bad habits, and that is a hard thing to do. But saving water is very important. I have recently learned a lot about water conservation in school. But I’ve also been exposed to the need to conserve by spending all of my life so far in two states where water is in short supply
The importance of water for health
Water is the most basic human need. At one level everyone knows of the effects of dehydration. The raging thirst. The horrible dry feeling of a hangover. At the same level everyone also knows the value of good hydration. The pleasure of a cool drink on a hot day. The satisfaction of taking a good swig of a refreshing liquid. So it’s obvious that a minimum intake of water is essential. Without it you die…quickly. And it’s remarkable and utterly tragic in the 21st century that millions of people in the developing world still have no reliable access to this level of hydration. We must never take our own riches for granted. In the developed world we’ve begun to realise something less intuitive about water and health and it’s this – good hydration has a stronger connection with good health than we ever imagined. We now have research that shows conclusively that an adequate intake of water works powerfully for good all round health and helps prevent serious illness. Hillary Forrester will be bringing us upto-date on this in a moment. But what is an adequate intake? Well it must be different for different people. An athlete in training should take more water than someone with a sedentary lifestyle. But (and this is a key point) ‘adequate’ is generally quite a lot more than most people drink at the moment. Rachel Clements for the Department of Health is going to give us more detail later this morning.
This work was required by society. It doesn’t happen easily. our regulators.to make greater efforts to raise the awareness of managers . in higher standards of treatment. and paid for by customers. A lot of talented people have devoted their lives to getting us where we are today. I mean my colleagues in the water companies. then its value as a national asset is even greater than once thought. in new water resources. was carried out by water companies. And we now know that it has worked extremely well. And I’m delighted that the Chief Inspector herself is with us this afternoon and will be talking about how Jeni sees the next steps. That’s a big claim but I make no apology. The industry has invested billions in research. Drinking water quality To put it at its simplest – we have the highest quality drinking water – it’s universally available – and it’s universally available at minimal cost. But our industry never relaxes and I’ll come back to this in a moment. In fact I think we can claim it as one of the quiet successes of the past decade.And are we talking about water or any ‘fluid’? This is a bit of a red herring. We now know enough – and the quality of our mains water should give us the confidence . It’s almost the definition of a developed country. Practical action now There is a lot we can do and are already doing. and people in government at EU and UK level. Obviously this is something we should be able to take for granted. Fortunately here in the UK and in most of the developed world we can guarantee these health benefits to everyone and I’d like to say a word about this now. because of course all fluid is of course water underneath. Year on year the Chief Inspector has reported increasing compliance with legal standards. And this is the view that is the basis of today’s conference and the water for health campaign that many of us are helping to promote. So how can we get the very best value from this national asset? We can look at this in terms of action now and responses in the medium term. And if our basic premise today is true and water is more important for health than most people imagine. The evidence is in the annual reports of the independent Drinking Water Inspectorate. But the view of a growing number of professionals now is that the real health benefits depend on a good proportion of a person’s intake being plain water. and in upgrading distribution networks. Our drinking water is now virtually perfect.
at lunchtime and asking for their help. We might say it was the school’s responsibility. The Alliance has been particularly successful in taking the message to government. Take children in school first. Alistair McCapra of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health. I’m also really pleased that the water industry has taken this up in a big way. Our colleague in the Water for Health Alliance. We’ll hear from Wessex Water in a moment about how they’re presenting tap water. And it’s excellent that they’re linking this to creative promotions and customer awareness campaigns. Many older people become dehydrated because they aren’t very mobile and seem to need little fluid. It’s encouraging that we’re getting the message through to policy makers in the NHS. Another step we’re beginning to take is to get the importance of adequate hydration taken seriously in hospitals. Yet there’s a long way to go. And it was fantastic to see not just one but two secretaries of state – for Health and Education – saying how important they thought it was for children’s health and academic progress to have access to water in school. Many companies are offering to help with coolers or other ways of improving accessibility. The Estates people for example accept that accessibility is important and the Better Hospital Food Panel has proposed locating more cold water coolers in wards. Nutrition is at the heart of all of them. . The NHS has lots of new food options for patients. And we can do this safe in the knowledge that we’ll be delivering proven value in every situation. Last week a colleague of mine at Water UK told me about the persistent message coming from her children’s school about how the kids needed to have water – not sweet fizzy drinks .and professionals everywhere that they can make a difference for the people in their organisation or those whose lives they influence at very low cost. So it’s clear to me that we need to accelerate this work wherever we can. We’re also making real progress with elderly people. but unfortunately the provision of cool fresh drinking water isn’t. I want to compliment fellow members of the Water for Health Alliance at this point for the work they have been doing to make the importance of access to water in school more and more a mainstream part of education policy. will tell us more later. Well there is some excellent work going on to make everyone concerned more aware including older people themselves and those who look after them in care homes. By we I mean both policy-makers and practitioners and things are getting better all the time. but the point was well made. It hardly seems credible but it’s now much better recognised that many hospital patients take longer to recover than they should and even develop worse symptoms in hospital because they’re dehydrated. In fact in the last couple of years we’ve made a great start.
We do need to have this debate. There are a lot of obstacles in the way of everyone knowing why it makes sense to drink an adequate volume of water each day. We’re finally beginning to see a proper focus on prevention as well as cure. The way to do it is to make ‘water for health’ openly part of the new health revolution. But perhaps even more important there’s a determination to take up quality of life issues. It would be easy to back away from tackling obesity. I’m going to finish by setting out a medium term challenge and the huge potential for public health if we can meet the challenge. Whatever you think of it. that’s because they are.these things need doing and our water for health message fits in perfectly. Medium term and the policy challenge We’ve seen that the message works in schools and is getting through in hospitals and care homes. The success of NHS Direct is part of it. anti-social behaviour and of course diet. So this all sounds very good. I believe this revolution is well underway. People have more information. What is driving the revolution? It’s the things we all know about.the idea of people having the knowledge to enable them to make good choices. As I see it. better education. But we have a great opportunity now to get things moving. There is more knowledge online and more access to it. like smoking. What I mean by this is the ‘self-reliance’ revolution . We shouldn’t underestimate this. But the fact remains . low interest and a resistance to change because frankly most people have got better things to think about. Professionals share information willingly rather than dispense knowledge.So far so good. Let’s not kid ourselves. . We’ve made a good start. there are two big challenges for the medium term: to spread the benefit throughout the population and to support change in wider public attitudes. say. or smoking in public places. In these individualistic times it’s not only ultra-traditional types who object to living in a ‘nanny state’. And there has been a big change in government thinking. If these challenges sound daunting. the concept wasn’t even entertained a decade ago.it will be a challenge to get people to change their views of things and indeed there may be some people who don’t think it’s the right thing to do. What we’re facing is almost certainly: low awareness. but I need to sound note of caution. and more sense of what their lives can be. but there’s still more to do. but here’s the note of caution . It’s a genuinely exciting development and ‘Water for Health’ must be part of it.
the water industry.is a real one. And my third challenge is that some people still don’t have confidence in tap water and may even be suspicious of it. We need to deal with discoloured water wherever it exists – it’s perfectly safe. but it’s not obvious how you make the case more generally (or whether it’s worth trying). We all need to think how: • To promote the benefits of plain water as part of a healthy lifestyle • To make the case for re-examining traditional attitudes. What we have to do is get even cleverer at dealing with the reasons people give for being reluctant to drink tap water. I know that our Chief Inspector Jeni Colbourne will be talking later about this and the idea of water safety plans and the new World Health Organization guidelines which will eventually make these plans the norm around the world. if you’re really lucky. To change this is going to take a lot of work from everyone involved . It’s true that people are aware of hydration issues at the basic level I spoke of a moment ago. Why drink something from the tap that’s tasteless and boring and says nothing about your self-image? Why do that. I mean the resistance to drinking more than feels necessary.Is this fair? We’re only just beginning to research people’s attitudes. and • To build confidence and overcome suspicion. And here the water industry has a special responsibility. And we also need to help customers look more carefully at the hygiene of their household taps and pipes. health professionals and policy makers. for all kinds of reasons. makes you feel pretty cool? What are the brand values of tap water? We know the answers. Second point. in colourful packaging and. when you can have something with a full flavour. We’ve made some good progress and programmes like the BBC’s ‘Should I worry about water?’ a couple of weeks ago help. especially when it’s not in everyone’s interests to encourage them to. I think quite a lot of people still feel this. When I say ‘re-examine traditional responses’. but you can’t blame people for finding it unattractive. To summarise. Our special part in the new health revolution is to continue the drinking water quality revolution. For example. The first point – about plain old water . . but they don’t know much about the points we’re trying to make and as far as we can tell they’re not yet acting on them. we must get better at curing any unwelcome chlorine tastes. but in all probability is necessary on health grounds. But it’s going to take time for everyone to feel they can trust their tap water.
in the UK we’ve made a huge investment in tap water quality. It gives everyone a water supply of the highest quality at minimal cost. Third.First. It is already paying social dividends. . plain water is actually a powerful health drink if people can only see it as such. From now on. the challenge is this: that people should believe it and get the benefit we’ve been discussing. Second. I believe we’ve hardly begun to realise the value of a truly high quality public water supply. Last. drinking water for health as well as refreshment should be part of the self-help revolution that’s giving everyone the potential of a better life.
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