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Access to Safe Water

Water running out of a tap into a pitcher
Pie chart: 38% of world population affected (2.5 billions) Bar chart: 1.63 million deaths per year Positive trend

Roughly 80% of all diseases in poor countries resolve from dirty drinking water (BMZ [Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung]). Germs in drinking water lead to diarrhoea and other illnesses. Especially in case of undernourishment these diseases can have severe and even deadly consequences.

Affected people and foundations of life: About 879 million people do not have access to hygienic water, some 2.5 billion are missing basic water sanitation (UN [United Nations] 2008, 41f. [and following page]). This has lead to about 4.6 billion cases of disease in 2004 (WHO [World Health Organization] 2008a, 28). About 443 million school days per year are missed due to diarrhoea (UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] 2007, 37). Collecting water takes a lot of time which in 64% of all households is usually done by women, and in 11% by children, mostly girls (UN 2008, 42).

Deaths: 1.63 million people in 2002, most of them children (attributable to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene; WHO 2007 and 2004b, 1344, 2146). Unsafe water and sanitation is the world's biggest child killer after malnutrition (OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] 2008, 264 and 276).

Loss of healthy life-years: 54.2 million of healthy life-years in 2000 (DALYs [Disability-adjusted life years], attributable to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene; WHO 2002, 228, 68).


  • to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water from 1990 to 2015 (Millennium Target: UN 2000, § 19 [1])
  • to halve the proportion of those having no access to basic sanitation (World Summit on Sustainable Development: UN 2002, § 24, 7).

Trend: + From 1990 to 2006, 1.6 billion people have already gained access to safe water, and 1.1 billion people have received access to basic sanitation. The number of people lacking access is decreasing, too (despite population growth). (UN 2008, 41f.; MA [Millennium Ecosystem Assessment] 2005, 13.) The related number of deaths has also gone down from 1.73 to 1.63 million people between 2000 and 2002 (WHO 2002, 226, 2007 and 2004b, 2151). The Millennium Target regarding safe water is nearly met. From 1990 to 2006 the lack of access to improved drinking water resources was almost halved from 23% to 13% of world population. Nevertheless the chances for achieving both targets are poor. The proportion of population missing an improved sanitation facility has decreased globally from 46% to 38%, therefore meeting the target will require a redoubling of efforts. (UN 2008a, indicators 7.8 and 7.9.)

Measures: Possible measures range from disinfection at the point of consumption up to rainwater collection and household connections to water. A finance volume of US$ (United States dollar) 10 billion per year would be needed, less than the economic damage caused by diarrhoeal diseases (UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] 2006, 42; OECD 2008, 230 and 265).


For numeric names the short scale is used:
1 billion = one thousand million = 109 = 1 000 000 000

DALYs: Disability-adjusted life years.
One DALY represents the loss of one year of equivalent full health. DALYs are the sum of the years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLL) in the population and the years lost due to disability (YLD) for incident cases of the health condition. (WHO 2004, 95f.)


Draft (2008)

This draft is to be reviewed by experts. Your hints are welcome, please use the contact form.

Photo credit: © WHO/P. Virot