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Safe drinking water threatened by deteriorating water quality

World Water Day 2010
While almost three quarters of the earth is covered by water, only one per cent is safe for human consumption

© UNICEF/HQ00-0945/Roger LeMoyne
A boy collects water at a Mark II handpump provided by UNICEF, near the town of Laghman, Afghanistan. UNICEF’s support includes maintenance training, latrine construction and safe hygiene practices.

KUALA LUMPUR, 22 March 2010 – Environmental factors such as increasing urbanisation, industrialisation and poor sanitation are contributing to water pollution, deteriorating the quality of safe drinking water, especially for families in low income settings living in rural remote areas.

Unsafe drinking water, along with poor sanitation and hygiene, are the main contributors to an estimated 4 billion cases of diarrhoeal disease annually, causing more than 2.2 million deaths worldwide. Of these, some 1.5 million occur in children under five.

“Access to safe water is essential in order for a child to survive and successfully develop the ability to learn, earn and thrive,” said UNICEF Chief of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Clarissa Brocklehurst.

Safe water is every child’s right

Children's rights to an adequate standard of living and to the highest attainable standard of health are enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The fulfilment of these rights is the ultimate goal of UNICEF's water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs.

WASH is a central component of the millennium development agenda. Without significant improvements in water and sanitation access and hygiene practices, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to child mortality, primary education, disease reduction, environmental sustainability and poverty eradication will not be achieved.

The MDGs include the specific water and sanitation target of halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Cost effective methods

Treating or purifying water at the household level has been shown to be one of the most effectual and cost effective means of preventing waterborne diseases particularly in times of emergencies and epidemics when fecal contamination kills millions.

Household water treatment alone can reduce diarrheal disease by as much as 47 per cent. Other proven and cost effective interventions include handwashing with soap, safe water storage techniques, and water quality monitoring at the local and community levels.

This year’s World Water Day theme – ‘Clean Water for a Healthy World’ – aims to raise awareness and spur action on improving water quality worldwide.  In conjunction with this event, UNICEF is releasing a new film advocating for protection of drinking water quality at household level entitled: “Saving Lives with Safe Water: Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage,” at a global event led by UNEP and UN-HABITAT, held in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Nairobi event calls for collective action by all stakeholders, from individuals and local communities, to international organisations, non-governmental organisations, and civil society to tackle the challenges of water quality globally.


For more information, please contact:

Indra Kumari Nadchatram
UNICEF Media, Malaysia
Tel +6012 292 6872, E-mail:





World Water Day 2010

Video: World Water Day

22 March 2010:
Bringing safe water into focus

Photos: World Water Day

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Millennium Development Goals

Year of Millennium Development Goals


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