International water issues

Lack of access to clean water in developing countries is one of the most pressing problems facing humanity as we enter the 21st century. It is estimated that each year more than one billion people have little choice but to resort to using potentially harmful sources of water. According to the World Health Organisation, four out of 10 people in the world do not have access to even a simple pit latrine and nearly two out of 10 have no source of safe drinking water. An estimated 3,900 children die every day as a result.

The United Nations has Millennium Development Goals to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 and designated 2008 the UN Year of Sanitation.

A number of environmental health practitioners from the UK have dedicated themselves to helping people in developing countries develop decent standards of public and environmental health. One organisation working to bring clean water to communities across the globe is Water for Kids.

It has set up successful projects in countries including Peru, the Gambia and Tanzania. The CIEH is an active sponsor of the charity. Another charity with similar aims is Water Aid.

International protocol on water and health

In 1999 the Third Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in London adopted a Protocol on Water and Health.

The Protocol was added to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes and came into force in August 2005, becoming legally binding for the ratifying countries.

As the first major international legal approach for the prevention, control and reduction of water-related diseases in Europe, the Protocol requires signatories to establish and maintain comprehensive national and / or local surveillance and early warning systems to prevent, and respond to, water-related diseases.

The signatories also agreed to promote international co-operation to establish joint or co-ordinated systems for: surveillance and early warning systems; contingency plans; and responses to outbreaks and incidents of water-related diseases and significant threats of such outbreaks.

By adopting the Protocol, the signatory countries agreed to take all appropriate measures to achieve:

  • Adequate supplies of wholesome drinking-water
  • Adequate sanitation of a standard that sufficiently protects human health and the environment
  • Effective protection of water resources used as sources of drinking-water, and their related water ecosystems, from pollution from other causes
  • Adequate safeguards for human health against water-related diseases
  • Effective systems for monitoring and responding to outbreaks or incidents of water-related diseases
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