WHO Unveils Guidelines and Resources to Improve Small-Scale Water Supplies

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) has unveiled guidelines and tools aimed at enhancing small-scale water supplies. The newly introduced Guidelines for drinking water quality: small water supplies, along with associated Sanitary inspection packages, are designed to elevate water quality standards, bolster service delivery resilience, and mitigate disease outbreaks in vulnerable and resource-limited communities.

Dr. Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Environment, Climate Change, and Health Department, emphasized the significance of investing in small water supplies: “Investing in small water supplies serves a dual strategy: effectively reducing waterborne diseases and decreasing overall expenses associated with illness prevention and healthcare costs.” Dr. Neira further highlighted the vulnerability of small supplies to the impacts of climate change on water quality and quantity, emphasizing the urgency of reaching everyone with safely managed drinking water.

Despite strides made, 2.2 billion people lacked access to safely managed drinking water in 2022, with a significant portion residing in rural areas typically served by small water supplies. These supplies often grapple with technical and resource-related challenges, hindering their ability to provide safe and reliable services. Consequently, deficiencies in water safety lead to water-related illnesses and adverse socio-economic ramifications. Addressing these challenges necessitates explicit consideration of small water supplies in policies and regulations.

Drawing upon WHO’s framework for safe drinking water, the Guidelines offer six contemporary recommendations. These include establishing health-based and context-appropriate drinking water quality regulations and standards, proactive risk management through water safety planning and sanitary inspections, and independent surveillance. These recommendations, rooted in evidence-based practices and ten cross-cutting principles, prioritize public health, adopt a risk-based approach, and target progressive improvement.

Governments and stakeholders worldwide are urged to adopt these recommendations to more effectively address small water supplies in policies, regulations, and support programs. Bruce Gordon, Head of WHO’s Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, and Health Unit, underscored the effectiveness of political will, risk-based regulation, and increased investment in scaling up access to safe drinking water through small supplies. He expressed confidence that the Guidelines will further bolster stakeholders’ efforts to enhance the safety and sustainability of small water supplies.

With a legacy spanning 60 years in shaping drinking water quality standards, these publications aim to guide the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal target 6.1, ensuring safely managed drinking water for everyone, everywhere, by 2030.

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