Facts and figures about water and health

The state of human health is inextricably linked to a range of water-related conditions: safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, minimized burden of water-related disease and healthy freshwater ecosystems.

Globally, diarrhoeal diseases and malaria accounted for 1.8 and 1.3 million deaths respectively in the year 2002.

Substantial progress has been made in reducing deaths associated with diarrhoeal disease: 2.9 million people died of diarrhoea in 1990, compared to 1.8 million in 2002, a decline of 37%.

Diarrhoeal diseases remain the leading cause of death from water-related diseases in children, accounting for 21% of all deaths of children under 5 in developing countries.
Trachoma (a disease related to poverty, illiteracy and unhygienic, crowded living conditions, particularly in dry dusty areas) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world, with an estimated 146 million cases, 6 million of which have caused actual blindness.

Malaria causes illness in about 400 million people every year. With its share of the global burden of disease increasing, it is one of the most urgent global health problems.

Africa accounts for more than half of the world’s burden of onchocerciasis (97%), malaria (88%), schistosomiasis (78%) and trachoma (52%). The World Health Organization (WHO) Region of South-East Asia accounts for more than half of the world’s burden of dengue (62%) and lymphatic filariasis (56%).

Since the late 1990s, cholera has posed a large problem in Africa, where between 100,000 and 200,000 cases are officially reported each year.

Current evidence shows that 1.7 million deaths could also be avoided each year by providing access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. The single most effective intervention is hand washing with soap, which could cut diarrhoea deaths in half.

Information from:
the 2nd World Water Development Report, ‘Water, a shared responsibility’

Source: UNESCO Water Portal, April 2006

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