Water and health

The financial efforts made are not commensurate with the mortality caused by unsafe water.

Unsafe drinking water is among the leading causes of death in the world.

While water is a natural source of life, unsafe drinking water is the world's leading cause of death, killing 5 million people every year, most of them children. The fight against water-related diseases remains a major challenge in some countries where water carries a significant number of diseases due to non-existent or failing sanitation systems and problems with drinking water supplies. Poor water quality and lack of sanitation have a negative impact not only on health but also on food security and educational opportunities for poor families around the world.

What are the water quality standards in so-called developing countries?

In France, the water distributed must comply with 54 bacteriological or physico-chemical criteria to be declared fit for consumption. Do we have to apply the same standards of potability everywhere in the world? Can we be satisfied with less restrictive standards? Is there not a risk that the increase in the normative requirement in the so-called developed countries will widen the gap with the countries considered to be developing, which see the potability standard constantly moving further and further away?

Water is at the heart of the public health issue in these countries. (Re)sources has highlighted the importance of reviewing the water quality standards produced by the World Health Organization for countries that are not able to meet them, and which generate a blockage of local authorities that seek at all costs to meet these standards without achieving them. According to Guy Carcassonne's formula, an optimum must be found that takes into account the acceptable level of water quality, the number of people benefiting and the country's means.

Clean water finally targeted in the new 2015-2030 agenda

According to Gérard Payen, adviser to the UN Secretary General on water and sanitation and member of (Re)sources: "There was a huge misunderstanding about the Millennium Development Goal indicator which measured the number of people using a water source protected from animal contamination, without knowing whether or not that water was safe to drink. Everyone assumed that access to safe water was measured because that was the goal. Therefore, the magnitude of the problem of access to water today is much greater than has been stated so far: probably between 3 and 4 billion people do not have access to safe water.

The Sustainable Development Goals now target access for all to regularly available uncontaminated water, rather than access to sources not used by animals. The objective is also to halve the flow of untreated wastewater, which implies new facilities to treat 40% of the current global flows. From this point of view, Goal 6 of the SDOs is a major step towards access to safe drinking water.

For more information, see the "Water and Health" conference organised by (Re)sources in 2008 in Annecy


* Poor people pay up to 10 times the regulated price for their water, which is often of poor quality.

* Unsafe water kills 5 million people every year, including 1.8 million children.

* Internationally, diarrhea kills more people than tuberculosis or malaria.

* Waterborne infectious diseases cause up to 3.2 million deaths per year, which is about 6% of all deaths worldwide.

* Lack of access to safe drinking water has a financial impact on health systems in developing countries of $1.6 billion/year.

* The decrease in diarrhoea alone would represent a gain of 3.2 million working days for 15-59 year olds.

* The costs of the water and sanitation deficit amount to $170 billion, or 2.6% of the GDP of the so-called developing countries.

* Programmes represent less than 5% of international development assistance, whereas they should more than double.