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Safety of Water

Waterborne illnesses may infect more than 1 billion people who do not have access to safe water.

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Safety of Water

What do you see in this photo?

The Ganges River is sacred to the people of India. It is also a major source of water for drinking and bathing for millions of people. An estimated 400 million people are affected by pollution in the Ganges. What can be done to protect a water body that has so much pressure placed on it?

Scarcity of Safe Drinking Water

The water that comes out of our faucets is safe because it has gone through a series of treatment and purification processes to remove contaminants. Those of us who are fortunate enough to always be able to get clean water from a tap in our home may have trouble imagining life in a country that cannot afford the technology to treat and purify water.


Many people in the world have no choice but to drink from the same polluted river where sewage is dumped. One-fifth of all people in the world, more than 1.1 billion people, do not have access to safe water for drinking, personal cleanliness, and domestic use. Unsafe drinking water carries many pathogens, or disease-causing biological agents such as infectious bacteria and parasites. Toxic chemicals and radiological hazards in water can also cause diseases.

Waterborne Disease

Waterborne disease caused by unsafe drinking water is the leading cause of death for children under the age of five in many nations and a cause of death and illness for many adults. About 88% of all diseases are caused by drinking unsafe water (Figure below). Throughout the world, more than 14,000 people die every day from waterborne diseases, such as cholera, and many of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a waterborne disease.

Guinea worm infection, contracted from contaminated water

Dracunculiasis, commonly known as Guinea Worm, is contracted when a person drinks the guinea worm larvae.

Guinea worm is a serious problem in parts of Africa that is being eradicated. Learn what is being done to decrease the number of people suffering from this parasite at the video below.


  • More than 1 billion people do not have access to water that is safe for drinking and washing.
  • Waterborne diseases cause death and illness to people in many parts of the world.
  • Government programs and international aid help to provide safe drinking water for some people.


  1. Would you go thirsty or would you drink from a water source that was visibly polluted?
  2. Why do nations fail to provide safe drinking water for their people?
  3. Why do waterborne diseases rarely strike in the developed world?

Explore More

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. How many children are killed by waterborne diseases every year?
  2. What did one school in rural Kenya do to tackle its water problem?
  3. What problems did the school have before the tank was built?
  4. What has happened since the construction of the tank?
  5. What burden do the students no longer have?
  6. What is the source of water in the tank?


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