Facts and figures about water and health

At the start of the 21st century unclean water is the world’s second biggest cause of death for children.

Every year some 1.8 million children die as a result of diarrhoea and other diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. This corresponds to 4,900 deaths each day or an under-five population equivalent in size to that of London and New York combined.

The diseases and conditions of ill-health directly associated with water, sanitation and hygiene include infectious diarrhoea (which, in turn, includes cholera, salmonellosis, shigellosis, amoebiasis and a number of other protozoal and viral infections), typhoid and paratyphoid fevers, acute hepatitis A, E and F, fluorosis, arsenicosis, legionellosis, methaemoglobinaemia, schistosomiasis, trachoma, intestinal helminth infections (including ascariasis, trichuriasis and hookworm infection), dracunculiasis, scabies, dengue, the filariases (including lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis), malaria, Japanese encephalitis, West Nile virus infection, yellow fever and impetigo.

The ill health associated with deficits in water and sanitation undermines productivity and economic growth, reinforcing the deep inequalities that characterize current patterns of globalization and trapping vulnerable households in cycles of poverty.

Some 1.1 billion people in the developing world do not have access to a minimal amount of clean water. Coverage rates are lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa, but most of the people without clean water live in Asia.

Deprivation in sanitation is even more widespread. Some 2.6 billion people—half the developing world’s population — do not have access to basic sanitation. Many more lack access to good quality sanitation. Coverage rates are shockingly low in many of the world’s poorest countries: only about 1 person in 3 in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia has access to sanitation—in Ethiopia the figure falls to about 1 in 7.

Deaths from diarrhoea in 2004 were about 6 times greater than the average annual deaths in armed conflict for the 1990s.

Water-related illness produces the loss of 443 million school days each year.

Close to half of all people in developing countries suffer at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits.

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%).

Information from:
the 1st United Nations World Water Development Report: ‘Water for People, Water for Life’
the 2nd UN World Water Development Report: ‘Water, a shared responsibility’
the UNDP’s 2006 Human Development Report

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