Climate change and human health

Water services for health

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Freshwater ecosystems

Freshwater is essential to maintain human health. It is also essential for maintaining many of the ecosystems which provide our food and other essential goods and services. Of all the water available on Earth, about 2.5% is fresh, and a good part is inaccessible to us.

Threats to freshwater resources mean threats to human health

The availability of this small fraction of freshwater found in rivers, lakes and underground is increasingly threatened by landuse, deforestation, climate change and increased consumption of freshwater by growing populations and industry. Additionally, the quality of this water is threatened by increasing pollution, particularly in urban areas and in relation to intensified agriculture. By protecting freshwater ecosystems we are also protecting our health.

Over 1 billion people lack access to safe water supplies, while 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation. Lack of sanitation leads to widespread microbial contamination of drinking water.

Water-associated infectious diseases claim up to 3.2 million lives each year, approximately 6% of all deaths globally. The burden of disease from inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene totals 1.8 million deaths and the loss of greater than 75 million healthy life years. Each person needs 20 to 50 liters of water free of harmful chemical and microbial contaminants each day for drinking and hygiene. It is well established that investments in safe drinking water and improved sanitation show a close correspondence with improvement in human health and economic productivity. There remain substantial challenges to providing this basic service to large segments of the human population.

Protecting water to protect health

  • UN Water
    UN Water is a coordination mechanism composed of representatives of 26 United Nations organizations working on all aspects of freshwater and sanitation.
  • Ramsar Convention
    Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Health and water resources