Polluted drinking water will kill around 1.6 million people this year unless governments make an effort to clean up their supplies, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official warned in a report published on Monday.
More than 4,000 people die every day from water-borne diseases, said James Bertram, coordinator of WHO’s Water, Sanitation and Health Programme. The death toll is not confined to developing nations.
“It’s a problem plaguing all countries, developed and undeveloped,” The Straits times quoted Bertram as saying ahead of Singapore’s International Water Week, which starts on Tuesday.
Governments must anticipate long-term water shortages caused by rising demand and climate change, he said.
The Asian Development Bank estimates that 700 people in the region lack access to safe drinking water. About two billion people lack access to basic sanitation facilities.
A UN Environment Programme report predicted that the escalating burden of water demand will become “intolerable in water-scarce countries” within the next few decades.
Governments need to look at new technologies such as desalination and special filtration systems, Bertram said, and invest heavily in building and maintaining water infrastructure.
There has been some progress. For the first time last year, more than 50 per cent of the world’s six billion people obtained their water through a pipe. Most of this water, however, is “unreliable and unsafe,” he told the newspaper.
WHO hopes to use Singapore as a model for other water-scarce countries.
“The event will not only allow Singapore to share with the water industry its experiences but also bring together experts to share their views and brainstorm practical solutions,” said Public Utilities Board chief executive Khoo Teng Chye. The board won the prestigious Stockholm Industry Water Award last year.