Disease & SWS Impact

Since 2000, over 1.8 billion people have gained access to basic water services and 2.1 billion people have gained access to basic sanitation services. However, worldwide, 785 million people lack access to basic water services and an estimated 2 billion people—more than 25% of the world population—lack access to basic sanitation.1 Worldwide, 60% of deaths from diarrheal illness are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene2. These diarrheal diseases (such as cholera) kill more children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined, making diarrheal disease the second leading infectious disease cause of death among children under five2.

The germs that cause diarrhea are commonly spread by food or water that has been contaminated with human or animal feces (poop). This contamination can occur in the environment because of inadequate sanitation and inadequate protection of drinking water sources and food products or in the home through unsafe water storage and inadequate hygiene.

Diarrhea is not the only disease spread through unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene practices. Neglected tropical diseases (such as schistosomiasis and Guinea worm disease) can be reduced almost 80% with improved hygiene, sanitation, and safe water access3. In fact, access to safe water and hygiene and sanitation has the potential to prevent at least 9.1% of the global disease burden and 6.3% of all global deaths4.

To address this global issue, CDC and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) developed the Safe Water System (SWS), to help protect communities from contaminated water by promoting behavior change and providing affordable short-term solutions. The SWS increases access to safe water by helping individuals sustainably treat and safely store water in homes, health facilities, and schools.

The SWS includes:

  • Household water treatment;
  • Safe storage of the treated water; and,
  • Behavior change communication to improve hygiene, sanitation, and water and food handling practices.

Diarrhea kills more children than malaria, measles, and AIDS combined. Proportional distribution of cause-specific deaths among children under five years of age, 2012 (excluding neonatal deaths). 2

  1. World Health Organization and UNICEF Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2017. Special focus on inequalities.external icon United States: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, 2019.
  2. Liu L, Johnson HL, Cousens S, Perin J, Scott S, Lawn JE, Rudan I, Campbell H, Cibulskis R, Li M, Mathers C, Black RE; Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group of WHO and UNICEF. Global, regional, and national causes of child mortality: an updated systematic analysis for 2010 with time trends since 2000external icon. Lancet. 2012;379(9832):2151-61.
  3. Esrey SA, Potash JB, Roberts L, Shiff C. Effects of improved water supply and sanitation on ascariasis, diarrhea, dracunculiasis, hookworm infection, schistosomiasis, and trachomaexternal icon. Bull World Health Organ. 1991;69(5):609-21.
  4. Prüss-Üstün A, Bos, R, Gore F, Bartram J. 2008. Safer water, better health: costs, benefits and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health pdf icon[PDF – 60 Pages]external icon. World Health Organization, Geneva.