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Notice to Readers: World Water Day --- March 22, 2009

Each year on March 22, World Water Day attracts international attention to the need to conserve and develop water resources. Shared Waters---Shared Opportunities, the theme for World Water Day 2009, focuses on issues associated with 263 lakes and river basins that cross the borders of two or more countries.

Worldwide, nearly one third of those 263 water basins are shared by three or more countries, and 19 are shared by five or more countries (1). Despite the complexity of these boundaries, hundreds of successful international transboundary agreements have been negotiated. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, and other organizations are working to ensure the peaceful collaboration of countries who share water systems (1).

Many countries lack resources to provide their inhabitants with safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Approximately 880 million people still lack access to improved sources of drinking water (2), leaving them at risk for water-, sanitation-, and hygiene-related diseases. Worldwide, 1.6 million deaths per year result from unsafe water, poor sanitation, and lack of hygiene (3). Most of these deaths occur among children aged <5 years. The ongoing cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe (4), which has affected approximately 91,000 persons and caused more than 4,000 deaths (5) since it began in August 2008, is an example of the health risks of waterborne diseases, although most cases and fatalities resulting from waterborne diseases are never reported.


  1. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. World Water Assessment Programme: sharing water resources. Paris, France: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; 2003. Available at
  2. World Health Organization and UNICEF. Progress in drinking-water and sanitation: special focus on sanitation. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; and New York, NY: UNICEF; 2008. Available at
  3. UN Millenium Project 2005. Health, dignity, and development: what will it take? New York, NY: United Nations Development Program; 2005. Available at
  4. Mintz ED, Guerrant RL. A lion in our village---the unconscionable tragedy of cholera in Africa. N Engl J Med 2009;360:1060--3.
  5. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Cholera in Zimbabwe. New York, NY: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; 2009. Available at

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Date last reviewed: 3/19/2009


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