The Problem: Worldwide
As international communities, the United Nations Children’s
Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have
joined forces to combat world water and sanitation problems
through the UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme for Water
Supply and Sanitation.
The problem worldwide is best defined by statistical data from,
and opinions of, UINCEF and WHO. All quotes come from the UNICEF/WHO
Meeting the MDG Drinking Water and Sanitation Target: A Mid-Term
Assessment of Progress, August 2004 publication, unless otherwise
cited. "One person in six – more than 1 billion of
our fellow human beings – has little choice but to use
potentially harmful sources of water. The consequences of our
collective failure to tackle this problem are dimmed prospects
for the billions of people locked in a cycle of poverty and
CBGI asked UNICEF representative Mr. Mark Henderson, Senior
Advisor of Water, Environment, and Sanitation (WES), "Why?"
That is, why does a multi-billion dollar program not report
statistical data on water quality in developing nations? We
speculated that it's due to the high cost of water testing,
lack of sufficient technologies (field-deployable comprehensive
analyzers) or lack of field-deployable qualified personnel.
Mr. Henderson’s response was, "You [CBGI] are entirely
correct." Mr. Henderson went on to say, "Water quality
studies exist in many places, but they are usually of limited
geographical extent and do not include a large enough sampling
size to draw conclusions on the quality of water on a national
or province wide basis. WHO and UNICEF have been working to
overcome this gap in information over the past 3 years."
"Every day, this unremitting but seemingly invisible disaster
claims the lives of more than 3,900 children under five, according
to WHO. And for every child that dies, countless others, including
older children and adults, suffer from poor health, diminished
productivity and missed opportunities for education.
What is behind this wholesale loss of life and potential?
It is the absence of something that nearly every reader of
this report takes for granted, something basic, unremarkable,
commonplace: toilets and other forms of improved sanitation
and safe drinking water."
- "…1.1 billion people were still using water from
unimproved sources in 2002. In sub-Saharan Africa, 42 percent
of the population is still unserved."
- "Global coverage figures from 2002 indicate that, of
every 10 people… 2 are unserved, with no choice but
to rely on potentially unsafe water from rivers, ponds, unprotected
wells or water vendors."
- "…every $1 invested would yield an economic return
of between $3 and $34, depending on the region."
- "Amongst the poor and especially in developing countries,
diarrhea is a major killer. In 1998, diarrhea was estimated
to have killed 2.2 million people, most of whom were under
5 years of age (WHO, 2000).” “Each year there
are approximately 4 billion cases of diarrhea worldwide. Diarrhea
is a symptom of infection caused by a host of bacterial, viral
and parasitic organisms most of which can be spread by contaminated
water. Water contaminated with human feces for example from
municipal sewage, septic tanks and latrines is of special
concern. Animal feces also contain microorganisms that can
cause diarrhea." Click
here for more information.
- "Safety and water quality. Existing surveys [UNISEF/WHO
MDG] do not provide information on the quality of the water,
either at the source or in households. Improved sources may
still contain harmful substances, and water can be contaminated
during transport or storage. Although ‘improved drinking
water sources’ provides a good indicator for progress,
it is not a direct measure of it. Dangerous levels of chemicals,
such as the arsenic and fluoride that are increasingly found
in groundwater in South and South-eastern Asia, are of growing
concern, along with infectious or other toxic substances.
The proportion of the population using safe drinking water
is therefore likely to be lower than that using improved drinking
The Problem: Industrialized Countries
- In 2002, there were 1,540 water quality health violations
at the 8,100 largest community water systems in the US –
the facilities that are supposed to provide safe drinking
water to their 237.5 million customers across the country
("CWS violations reported" EPA website, drinking
- Airlines are now concerned about contamination of E. coli
and coliform in their drinking water tanks on flights, after
a sampling of over 12% of all planes (from different airlines)
were found to be contaminated in September 2004; in a November/December
2004 study federal environmental officials bumped that number
to 17.2% (Sep 21, 2004, "Water on Some Planes Contaminated,
Tests Show," Alonso Soto, WSJ and "Coliform found
in tests of airline water", Seth Borenstein, Knight
Ridder News Service).
- Coastal recreational beaches had 18,000 days in 2003 where
the water was so unhealthy, it was unfit for humans to even
play (Aug 9, 2004, "Don’t go in the water,"
Alex Markels, USNEWS).
- One in ten Americans lives within 10 miles of a contaminated
military base where spent munitions have been buried and
pose a risk of leaching into the water supply. Click
here to read the USA TODAY article.
- Between 1999 and 2001, nearly 5,116 out of 6,300 sampled
facilities with wastewater pollutant discharge permits had
exceeded their permit limits, incurring charges of up to
$25,000 per day, not including untold millions in civil
suits (EPA website, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination
- Five cases of Legionnaires' disease were confirmed as
a result of staying at a Dallas hotel in October 2004 (Dallas
Morning News, October 30th 2004, pg 2B).
- In 2003 Legionnaires' disease was found in Chicago residential
hot-water pipes. New research shows that hot water pipes
can be a source of the disease (Associated Press September
- In early 2004, Coke was forced to recall approximately
500,000 bottles of Dasani Bottled Water in the UK (BBC News,
UK Edition, March 19, 2004).