Water Education - Water and Health

Where do waterborne diseases rank in causing human health problems?

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The lack of clean water resources and sanitation facilities looms as one of the most serious environmental health problems faced today by a large fraction of the world's population, especially those living in developing regions. The onset of waterborne diseases in water is enormous and largely attributed to the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that 1.1 billion people globally lack basic access to drinking water resources, while 2.4 billion people have inadequate sanitation facilities, which clearly accounts for many water-related acute and chronic diseases. Some 3.4 million people, many of them young children, die each year from water-borne diseases, such as intestinal diarrhea (cholera, typhoid fever, and dysentery), caused by microbially-contaminated water supplies that are linked to deficient or non-existent sanitation and sewage disposal facilities.


Globally, water-borne diseases are the second leading cause of death in children below the age of five years, while childhood mortality rates from acute respiratory infections rank first. Around the world, water supply and sanitation facilities are rapidly deteriorating and currently are operating at a fraction of their installed capacity.

This situation is particularly serious in many urban regions of developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America where the poor have very limited access to clean water supplies and sanitation facilities, which pose infectious disease risks to the population, especially among infants and young children. This situation is often more pronounced in rural areas, where the problem of water resources and inadequate sanitation facilities still largely remains to be solved.

Added to this is the rapid industrialization of many developing regions, where in the past few decades water contamination by toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes has aggravated an already serious water pollution problem. Many freshwater streams and lakes around the world have been contaminated with industrial discharges and agricultural runoffs that carry a large variety of toxic chemical substances and hazardous wastes. Many contaminated water sources contain a number of heavy metals, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals, along with persistent organic pollutants (POPs), many of which remain in the environment for long periods of time and bioaccumulate in the food web, causing many acute and chronic diseases, ranging from severe skin and liver disorders to developmental abnormalities and human cancer. B. The Hemispheric Picture: In a report based on the Meeting of Environment Ministers of the Americas, held in Montreal, Canada on March 29 - 30, 2001, which represented 33 countries in the Western 2 Hemisphere, the environmental threats to public health from contaminated drinking water was summarized as follows:

"Although important progress has been made in recent years, approximately 90 million people in the Americas still do not have ready access to water. Many of those who do have the benefit of being connected to a water source, drink water that can make them sick."

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