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Prepared for World Water Day. Written by Dr. Rosalind Stanwell Smith, and reviewed by the Injuries and Violence Programme (VIP) and the Water, Sanitation and Health Programme (WSH), World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva
WHO/WSH/WWD/TA.5
© 2001–2003, 2002 WHO

World Water Day 2001: Water for positive health

Introduction

  Table of contents

Water is essential for health, which means not just absence from disease but the maintenance of well being Box 1). The health aspects of hygiene, prevention of infection and nutrition all depend to some extent on access to water and to water quality. This theme article focuses on the meaning of water health for individuals and for communal use of water in our environment. Water plays an important part in rest and relaxation, as well as in cleanliness and the supply of basic needs. These positive aspects are taken for granted in many water rich countries, such as in the use of water spas, swimming and recreational use of water resources. The desperate need to address water scarcity and water related poverty inevitably means that the recreational role of water is not seen as a health priority. Nevertheless, access to safe water is an important part of general health, whether it is used for bathing or for play: children will play in water, whether it is safe or not. Research into handwashing has also demonstrated that the motivation for keeping hands clean is often based more on aesthetic reasons than a concern for health (Curtis 2002): so programmes designed to reduce diarrhoea by handwashing need to take account of human behaviour and motivation, which includes understanding the human desire to use water for pleasure and to look and smell clean. Some water activities are intended to maintain and improve health: for example, the postulated healing effects of spas, physical benefits of swimming and the health benefits claimed for consumption of some spring and mineral waters. Long established traditions also demonstrate the symbolic importance of water for health and cleanliness in all societies and religions.

Box 1: The WHO definition of health

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

World Water Day 2001: Water for positive health: 1,2,3,4 | Next page

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