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The Problem

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 disease."
  • "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 water sources."
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."

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 water section).


  • 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 (NPDES) section).


  • 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 14, 2003).


  • 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).
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