Water Sanitation Health


Rolling revision of the WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality

Desalination is included in the plan of work of the rolling revision of the WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality.


Desalination of seawater and brines within particular WHO regions (e.g. EMRO) and globally is a large and rapidly growing process for producing new drinking-water. There is a clear public health and environmental protection argument for providing guidance on production of desalinated water for drinking-water.

There are certain chemicals and microbes that are of particular importance in desalinated water. Of these, particular concern has been expressed regarding the presence of microbes due to blending of final waters that, because they were derived from coastal and marine sources, may not be adequately addressed in the GDWQ. Similar concerns have been noted about particular chemicals in source water or that are not well removed by the desalination process.

Expected end-product(s)

  • Stand-alone guidance document with comprehensive coverage of health and environmental aspects of desalination processes and projects;
  • Revised text of section 6.4 for the Fourth Edition.

Progress to date

The Berlin Coordinating Committee meeting (2000) endorsed the need for guidance in this area. Development of guidance on desalination as a safe drinking-water source began in the rolling revision of the Second Edition of the GDWQ following a recommendation at the Berlin meeting that a free-standing monograph also be prepared.

Work was initiated by WHO/EMRO at a planning meeting in Bahrain in 2001, and the workplan was presented to the Chemical Aspects WG meeting (Tokyo, 2002). Work on the guidance document Desalination for Safe Drinking-water Supply was initiated by WHO/EMRO in March 2004. The Steering Committee of six experts met in May 2004, developed a workplan and identified candidates for chairs and members of five Technical Work Groups:

  • Technology;
  • Health;
  • Marine and Sanitary Microbiology;
  • Monitoring; and
  • Environmental Impact Assessment.

Two meetings were held and a draft document has been developed. The final guidance document should be published in English by the end of 2007. An Arabic translation will also be prepared using funding provided by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science.