209768 Unclogging obstacles to water and sanitation coverage: The promise and perils of comparing Philadelphia's history with the crisis in the developing world

Monday, November 9, 2009: 10:35 AM

Niva Kramek, MES , ., ., Washington, DC, DC
Katryn Bowe, BA , ., ., Washington, DC, DC
Less than one hundred years ago, annual typhoid outbreaks in Philadelphia killed more than 400 people each summer for 30 years. Contaminated drinking water and the lack of a system for removing human and animal waste plagued the city, presenting many of the same public health challenges facing developing cities today. Using Philadelphia's water history as a case study in conjunction with current practices in several developing locations, this paper will address essential issues confronting clean water and adequate sanitation: political disregard for water issues until moments of crisis; complex trans-boundary cooperation requiring a watershed perspective; the inability of epidemics alone to prompt action; persistent difficulties in financing these systems; and deep-rooted taboos surrounding human waste that discourage changing norms. Efforts to provide clean drinking water and wastewater treatment that is environmentally and economically sustainable benefit from understanding how contemporary challenges were addressed in the past. As the first city in the world to provide free drinking water and as an innovator in centralized water delivery methods, Philadelphia's history provides inspiration. However, though understanding history can prevent repeating past mistakes, directly copying what once worked misses opportunities for more equitable, efficient, and sustainable development driven by the unique character of many areas, and of economic, technological, and social advances. Philadelphia's mistakes demonstrate what to avoid, and it has much to learn from innovations in today's developing areas, at a time when waste must be used as a resource and small scale technology and financing have become important tools.

Learning Objectives:
- Identify which major technological and institutional milestones and failures in the past are relevant to addressing water and sanitation issues in developing areas today - Describe the ways in which most current models for water and sanitation infrastructure in developed countries are not sustainable and should be modified based on lessons learned from developing areas. - Discuss the duality of the relationship between water and development: though the absence of clean water and adequate sanitation has always posed a threat to public health and development, increased development requires perpetual improvements and adjustments to deal with increased watershed stresses

Keywords: History, Water

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Ph.D. in History
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.