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Clean water key to global health

7th July 2008

Children in the world's poorest countries are far more likely to get water-borne diseases than adults, a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report says.

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In a country-by-country estimate of the burden of disease caused by poor water quality, sanitation and hygiene, WHO calls for effective and affordable interventions if water-borne diseases are ever to be controlled.

According to the WHO report, improved sanitation is considered equally important for public health as is access to improved drinking water, but the world has been slower to meet the challenge of sanitation provision for the poor.

The report entitled 'Safe Water, Better Health', found that children suffer a disproportionate share of the disease burden caused by unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation.

It estimates that 10% of the global burden of disease can be traced back to unsafe drinking water and sanitation.

What's more, any investment in safe water and sanitation would reap a ten-fold return.

Earlier, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan analysed barriers to global sanitation coverage such as inadequate investment, water availability, poor or nonexistent policies, governance, poor resources and gender disparities, and looked at the impact on water resources of various sanitation technology choices.

They found that the problem was not that water was not available, but that technological innovations were needed to provide adequate toilets for people, especially in areas where water is scarce.

Water availability affected around 46 million people in the areas studied, mostly in cities where water quality is already poor, and where a sewage system might make matters worse.

Report co-author Dave Watkins said just a fraction of a percent of wealthy countries' gross domestic product would be sufficient to meet global funding needs.

But money alone is not enough, Watkins said. If the right sustainable technology was not used, and if local people were not trained to operate it, projects could still fail, and discourage further investment.

He called for further research into the social and economic benefits of improved water and sanitation, saying that they are currently grossly underestimated.

 

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