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Press release

Deteriorating water quality threatens global gains made towards access to safe drinking water

With almost three quarters of the earth covered by water only one per cent is safe for human consumption

NEW YORK, 22 March 2010 – While almost 5.9 billion people or 87 per cent of the world’s population now have access to an improved drinking water source, the risk of water pollution remains, often due to environmental factors such as increasing urbanization, industrialization and poor sanitation. Also, the quality of drinking water often significantly declines after collection from an improved source, especially in low-income settings where water sources can be distant from people’s homes.

This year’s World Water Day theme, “Clean Water for a Healthy World,” focuses on water quality challenges and solutions. Safe and clean water is increasingly becoming a precious commodity as we continue to pollute our water systems with human, agricultural and industrial waste.

“Access to safe water is essential in order for a child to survive and successfully develop the ability to learn, earn and thrive,” said Ms. Clarissa Brocklehurst, UNICEF Chief of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). “The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the right of all children to the highest attainable standard of health, and specifically the right to safe drinking water,” she added.

Unsafe drinking water is a major cause of waterborne diseases including diarrhea (the second biggest killer of children under five), hepatitis and typhoid. Diarrheal diseases kill more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Children who suffer from these diseases often become locked in a lifelong cycle of recurring illnesses and faltering growth, with irreversible and lasting damage to their development and cognitive abilities.

On the occasion of World Water Day 2010, 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.

Treating or purifying water at the household level has been shown to be one of the most effective and affordable 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.

UNICEF’s approach to child survival and development includes ensuring that communities and households have access to drinking water of adequate quantity and quality, as well as good sanitation and hygiene practices.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:
Ms. Saira Khan, UNICEF Media, New York,
Tel + 1 212 326 7224,
E-mail: sskhan@unicef.org




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