Unsafe Water: A Global Health Crisis

Water is essential for life itself. Sadly, more than one billion people do not have access to a safe water supply within 1 km of their homes, relying instead on unprotected lakes, streams or shallow wells to meet household needs. Even where relatively clean water is available at a community source, it can easily be contaminated as it is collected, carried and stored in the home. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that about 4900 children die each day from diarrheal diseases resulting from unsafe water and lack of sanitation. The yearly toll of 1.8 million children is equivalent to the under-five populations of New York and London combined.

Chlorine Is Effective, Affordable, and Widely Available for Drinking Water Disinfection

Chlorine is added to drinking water to destroy disease-causing organisms, an essential step in ensuring safety. Where widely used, chlorine has helped to virtually eliminate waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Only chlorine-based disinfectants leave a beneficial "residual" level that remains in treated water, helping to protect it during distribution and storage.

Chlorine is a versatile disinfectant, used in large and small water community systems, as well as for treating water in individual households. It is also critically needed for emergency relief efforts. In responding to the December 2004 tsunami disaster in South Asia, WHO reported, "chlorine is most widely and easily used, and the most affordable of the drinking water disinfectants. It is also highly effective against nearly all waterborne pathogens."

Safe Water Is Imperative for Sustainable Development

The United Nations has recognized the critical link between safe water and sustainable development. At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the UN reaffirmed its goal to reduce by one-half the proportion of people without access to safe water by 2015. Meeting this goal will require sustained, coordinated action and billions of dollars worth of investment each year. A recent report by the World Bank concludes that such investments in safe water access yield health and economic benefits much greater than the costs.


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