Message from Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, On the occasion of World Water Day on 22 March 2014

The observance of World Water Day provides a good opportunity to reflect on achievements and, more importantly, to see how we can further reduce the burden associated with water-related diseases as we face ever greater challenges from climate change and urbanization.

World Water Day is an important day in WHO’s calendar. The Regional Office for South-East Asia continues to be engaged in promoting safe water for all because it is essential not only for life but also for a better quality of life. Despite significant progress, millions continue to be without safe water (and sanitation)1 .

UN-Water2 and its partners have recognized this fundamental importance of water for human development, the environment and the economy, and are promoting a post-2015 sustainable development goal for water, ‘Securing sustainable water for all ’. This initiative aims to support the protection of water resources from over-exploitation and pollution while meeting drinking water and sanitation needs for energy, agriculture and other uses. It further aims to protect communities from water-related disasters. Under this UN-Water umbrella, WHO will strengthen its efforts in the realization of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. WHO shares a vision for sustainable safe water, sanitation and hygiene for all, in the home as well as in all schools, health centres, workplaces.

Water is also at the heart of climate change adaptation, serving as the crucial link between the climate system, human society and the environment. Climate change is likely to lead to changes in water-related disease patterns as a result of impacts on infrastructure and environment from more intense precipitation and more severe and longer droughts.

The most effective way of identifying climate change impacts on water supplies, and to take appropriate adaptation measures, is with the use of Water Safety Plans (WSPs). For several years now, the WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia has been promoting improved water supply and drinking water quality through the use of WSPs. These risk-based approaches to managing water supply more proactively seek to reduce the chances of dangerous chemicals or microbes contaminating water at the point of human consumption and also to reduce water-borne diseases.

WHO reiterates its commitment of support to Member States to ensure safety of drinking water and promoting sanitation and hygiene for all in the home, in schools, in health centres and workplaces.

1While progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals on delivering health benefits through greater access to improved water supply has been good, by the end of 2011 an estimated 768 million people globally did not use an improved source for drinking water and serious concerns remain about the safety of water supplied from intermittent and poor quality services. Progress on sanitation has been significant but is lagging behind water supply and for both areas much remains to be done.

2Inter-agency entity of the United Nations, endorsed in 2003 for the follow up of 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development