Worldwide, 884 million people do not have access to safe water and an estimated 2.5 billion people — half of the developing world — lack access to adequate sanitation 1. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of deaths due to diarrheal illness worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene 2. These diarrheal diseases (such as cholera) kill more children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined, making diarrheal disease the second leading cause of death among children under five 2.
To address this global disease burden, CDC and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) developed the Safe Water System (SWS), which protects communities from contaminated water by promoting behavior change and providing affordable and sustainable solutions. The SWS increases access to safe water by helping individuals treat and safely store water in homes, health facilities, and schools.
The SWS encompasses three steps:
- Household water treatment;
- Safe storage of the treated water; and,
- Behavior change communication to improve hygiene, sanitation, and water and food handling practices
Global WASH Health Burden1. Because contaminated water is a major cause of illness and death, water quality is a determining factor in human poverty, education, and economic opportunities 2.
Unfortunately, worldwide water quality is declining, threatening the health of ecosystems and humans worldwide 2. Various factors influence this deterioration, including population growth, rapid urbanization, land use, industrial discharge of chemicals, and factors resulting from climate change.
Today, hundreds of millions of people do not have access to improved sources of drinking water 3, leaving them at risk for water-, sanitation-, and hygiene- (WASH) related diseases. Worldwide, 1.5 million children die annually from diarrheal illnesses that are caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene 3. Devastating epidemics of cholera, such as the 2010-2011 outbreak in Haiti that caused more than 500,000 cases of illness and 7,000 deaths, are only the “tip of the iceberg,” as most waterborne diseases, illnesses, and deaths are never reported 4.
Responding to these challenges requires a spectrum of interventions. The prevention or minimization of water pollution is critical to improving drinking water quality. Interventions to improve drinking water quality range from disinfecting water at the household level [point-of-use (POU) treatment] to water management at the community level [Water Safety Plans (WSPs)]. In some situations, more than one type of intervention is needed. For example, both POU treatment and WSPs may be needed for piped water systems with intermittent service. When this happens, the different interventions are complementary, not competitive.
- The United Nations Environmental Programme (2009), Report: Water security and ecosystem services: The critical connection. [PDF - 56 pages] UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya. ISBN: 92-807-3018-0.
- World Water Assessment Programme (2009), The United Nations World Water Development Report 3: Water in a Changing World. UNESCO: Paris and Earthscan: London. [PDF - 349 pages]
- World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund Joint Monitoring Programme for Water. Supply and Sanitation (2008), Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation. [PDF - 4 pages] UNICEF: New York and WHO: Geneva. ISBN: 92-806-4313-8.
- Mintz ED, Guerrant RL. A Lion in Our Village – The Unconscionable Tragedy of Cholera in Africa. N Engl J Med. 2009;360:1060-1063.