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Water, sanitation and hygiene are basic human needs some people don't get

Dr. Jeff Hersh | Daily News Correspondent

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On March 23, the United Nations Water Conference was held for the first time in nearly 50 years. During the conference, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) highlighted the need for all people to have access to clean water, sanitation and proper hygiene (WASH).

Unfortunately, we're not close to achieving this goal. Right now, more than 2 billion people a quarter of Earth’s population do not have reliable access to safe drinking water, and areas encompassing about half of the world’s population have sanitation services that are not able to adequately treat human waste or have no significant sanitation services at all.

Why water quality matters

The consequences of this are profound. The WHO notes that worldwide, water-related diseases (cholera, hepatitis A, typhoid, other causes of diarrheal illnesses and many other diseases) are responsible for more than 3.4 million deaths a year, making them the leading cause of disease and death around the world.

A study in the prestigious journal Lancet noted that “poor water sanitation and a lack of safe drinking water take a greater human toll than war, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction combined.”

Worldwide, sanitation limitations (among other factors) have been a major reason why global eradication of polio has not been possible. In addition, over half of all health care facilities worldwide (where cleanliness is a critical issue) lack resources for adequate hygiene.

Good water also an issue in parts of United States

This is also a huge issue in the U.S., where every year there are more than 7 million Americans who fall ill to waterborne disease, more than 100,000 who are hospitalized and more than 6,000 who die.

The WHO is actively addressing these issues, as can be seen by its “WASH vision and mission” (see ): “The attainment by all peoples of the lowest possible burden of water and sanitation-related disease through primary prevention, as guided by the 2018-2025 WASH Strategy:

  • Providing leadership in water-, sanitation- and hygiene-related issues (by making authoritative statements, influencing policy and coordinating networks of partners and collaborating centers)

  • Normative work (mainly on water quality, but also on monitoring approaches and interventions, usually resulting in guidelines and best practice texts)

  • Providing evidence (through various monitoring activities, but also through commissioned research)

  • Supporting member states (through technical cooperation and capacity building)

  • Responding to emergencies (the role in the Health Cluster WASH in health care and in the WASH cluster restoring safe water supplies and adequate sanitation)

  • Knowledge management (through analysis, synthesis and dissemination of reliable and credible information).”

How you can help

You can help with this effort by donating to the WHO (, the Clean the World Foundation ( or multiple other charities.

With the identification of this critical worldwide issue, it is even more frustrating when intentional acts worsen this crisis. Unfortunately, that's what has happened in Ukraine.

On June 6, the Kakhovka Dam was almost destroyed following an attack on its infrastructure. More than 80 settlements have been affected by the ensuing floods, affecting drinking water to more than 300,000 people and putting the population at a huge risk of serious health issues, including disease outbreaks. The water supply to multiple hospitals has also been compromised. Potable water is in critical need until conditions stabilize.

In response to this, several organizations, including MedGlobal, Interstate Disaster Medical Collaboration (IDMC) and Health Tech Without Borders (HTWB), are seeking donations to procure water pumps, water purifiers and power generators for health care facilities affected by the floods in Ukraine. If you would like to support this initiative, you can make a donation at

Jeff Hersh, Ph.D., M.D., can be reached at



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