Message from the Director General

World Water Day 2010

‘Clean water for a healthy world’

22 March 2010

Water is life! This often used statement becomes especially relevant when we take a closer look at the inextricable link between water and health. And it underlies the focus of this years’ World Water Day: ‘Clean water for a healthy world’. This concern is especially important for ICIMOD’s member countries. A closer look at the statistics on people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and the number of people (mainly children under 5) that die every year from water-borne diseases, shows us that we still have a long way to go to ensure well-being based on clean water in the world at large, and in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region in particular.

The recent report from the World Health Organization and UNICEF (Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water – 2010 Update) shows that worldwide 2.6 billion people, or four out of ten, do not have access to basic sanitation, and 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. The majority of these mainly poor people live in Asia, and particularly in south Asia, with ICIMOD’s member countries in the forefront. In many parts of this region, the combination of open defecation, and eating with hands without washing with soap, together with poor hygiene resulting from water scarcity, can prove lethal. The 2006 WHO World Health Statistics show that worldwide, water-borne diseases are the major single cause of death, with some 1.9 million people dying from diarrhoea alone every year. In Nepal around 16,000 people die every year from water borne diseases and other causes related to poor water quality, in Bangladesh the number is 68,000, in Pakistan 118,000, and in India a staggering 456,000.

The main underlying cause for these deaths is the lack of basic sanitation. Among the eight Hindu Kush Himalayan countries, around half the population lacks access to proper sanitation in Bangladesh, China, and Pakistan, while two-thirds of the population in Afghanistan, India, Myanmar, and Nepal has to practice open defecation or use other unimproved sanitation. Bhutan has a better position with ‘only’ every third person lacking access to improved toilets.

But there is cause for optimism. Four out of ten of the people who gained access to improved sanitation between 1990 and 2008, lived in China and India, as did half of those who gained access to improved drinking water. This is partly due to the large number of people in these countries, but is also closely linked to the overall socioeconomic development and subsequent poverty reduction. The strong recent economic growth in the emerging economies of China and India has contributed to giving people better access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation, and thereby contributed to a better health status in these countries.

The current rate of change means that the world will actually exceed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, although the target of halving the number of people without access to basic sanitation will not be reached until 2015.

Although water quality as such is not currently at the core of ICIMOD’s work, overall human health and well-being are. By promoting and facilitating work on equitable and sustainable access to water, biodiversity, and other resources, as well as supporting development towards sustainable livelihoods and poverty reduction, we aim to contribute indirectly to improved human health and wellbeing in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region. Thus, together with our member countries and international partners, we strive towards ICIMOD’s vision of “a mountain population of the greater Himalayas enjoying improved well-being in a sustainable global environment”.

Best wishes to all on this special day,
Andreas Schild
Director General