Managing Water-Related Health Risks

Improving quality of and access to water, sanitation and hygiene to eliminate health risks
The Challenge

Each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the 2030 Agenda are ambitious. Successfully achieving each goal depends on recognizing the cross-cutting nature of some goals, for example, SDG 6: clean water and sanitation and SDG 3: good health and well-being. Poor quality of and access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) can present significant health risks by exposing populations to various microbial and chemical hazards. Poor water management can lead to a rise in disease outbreak, specifically, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Additionally, a lack of research and poor financing further exacerbate the problem in many countries. poor quality water can also affect populations who consume water contaminated with naturally occurring compounds such as Arsenic or Fluoride, which can cause significant negative health outcomes. Disease outbreaks and spread, and poor WaSH conditions are particularly likely to occur during humanitarian crises. Resilient health systems, “the capacity of health actors, institutions, and populations to effectively respond to crises and maintain core
functions during a crisis hits”, would ensure better service provision during such emergencies. Yet, in low and middle-income countries, 1/3 of all healthcare facilities lack a safe water source.

The Solution

Given that poor quality of and access to WASH can present significant health risks, including during humanitarian crises, the impact of water on health is clear, but more work needs to be done. This includes:

  • Identifying relevant geographic areas for targeted action to prevent the spread of NTDs, especially within vulnerable populations;
  • Improving health outcomes, especially for women and girls, and water treatment options for poor water quality due to natural contaminants;
  • Assessing trade-offs between building resilience in health care facilities and addressing current needs; and
  • Offering an evidence-base to guide policy making on service delivery and spending, particularly around WASH in humanitarian crises.