World Health Organisation: The facts on water

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Whether for domestic use, drinking, food production, or recreational purposes, readily available and safe water is crucial for public health, and improved management of water resources and better water supply and sanitation have been linked over and over again to economic growth of entire nations, alongside poverty reduction.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 5.2 billion people – 71 per cent of the global population – have access to a drinking-water service free of contaminants that is safely managed and readily available. However, while 89 per cent of the world’s population has used a basic service, an improved water source with a round trip to collect water that can be completed within half an hour, 884 million have no access to even this basic drinking water source.

Simultaneously, at least 2 billion people around the world rely on a source of drinking water that has been contaminated with faeces, which has the potential to transmit waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, polio, and typhoid, diseases that cause approximately 502,000 deaths annually, with around 361,000 deaths being those of children under the age of five.

In addition, bad management of urban, industrial, and agricultural wastewater could leave drinking water sources dangerously polluted and contaminated with chemicals, leading to the deaths of another 842,000 people.

In low- and middle-income nations, WHO estimates that up to 38 per cent of health care faculties do not have access to an improved water source, 19 per cent do not have access to improved sanitation, and a staggering 35 per cent do not offer soap and water for hand-washing.

Around the world, around 15 per cent of patients develop an infection during their stay in the hospital, with the number in low-income countries disproportionately bigger.

However, if the water sources are improved, people would expend less time and effort collecting it, allowing them to be productive in other ways, and also increasing personal safety as there is no need to make long and potentially hazardous trips to collect water. Better water quality also translates into less expenditure on medical bills as people are less likely to fall ill, and are better able to contribute economically.

As children also face higher risks in the form of waterborne diseases, access to improved water can bring about better health, better school attendance, and in the long-term, positive repercussions.

In addition, WHO estimates that half the world’s population will be residing in water-stressed areas by 2025 due to climate change, demographic changes, increased water scarcity, population growth, and rapid urbanisation. Treating wastewater in order to recover water, energy, or nutrients, is becoming increasingly important and popular, with countries beginning to use wastewater for irrigation.


Source: World Health Organisation