Small water supply systems – WHO stresses their important role with publication of new guidelines

Małe systemy zaopatrzenia w wodę

The World Health Organization (WHO), in response to the growing challenges of ensuring a safe and reliable supply of drinking water, has published new guidelines and tools to improve the performance of small water intakes and systems. The latest publication focuses on improving water quality, combating increases in disease in communities vulnerable to water shortages and building a more resilient supply system.

These guidelines, tailored to small water supply systems, are based on the WHO’s more than 60 years of experience in striving to provide consumers with good-quality, safe drinking water. Key aspects include establishing regulations and quality standards based on health risk assessments and context-specific, proactive risk management through systems safety planning, health inspections, and conducting independent oversight. These guidelines are primarily aimed at decision-makers at the national and subnational levels responsible for developing the regulatory framework and support programs related to these activities.

Ensuring access to safe and adequate quality drinking water is one of the most important and effective means of promoting health and reducing the extent of poverty. Water for much of the world’s population comes from small intakes, from individual domestic wells to local pipelines serving entire communities. More than 40 percent. of the world’s people live in rural areas that are commonly served by small drinking water intakes. The situation is very similar if we are talking about the population living in small cities and suburban areas, and sometimes even larger clusters.

Do small drinking water intakes generate challenges?

It turns out that it does. Small drinking water intakes are at greater risk of various safety-related deficiencies that can result in disease transmission and adverse social and economic impacts. Improving safety and performance management in such cases is an important aspect of public health and welfare concerns, helping to eliminate social inequalities and improve living conditions for the general population. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that in 2019. More than 500,000 could have been prevented. deaths if access to safe drinking water was provided in systems of all sizes. Those most affected by the consumption of drinking water of insufficient quality are the marginalized and often economically disadvantaged.

Small drinking water intakes usually require operational, management and mainly technical challenges that affect their safety and reliability. Water supply needs and opportunities therefore require detailed regulatory consideration. The WHO guidelines are designed to be practical and accessible. They offer clear guidance leading to incremental improvement based on a comprehensive review of facts and best practices. In addition, the WHO gives examples of countries and places around the world where small drinking water intakes are models for implementing and putting into practice the aforementioned guidelines.

Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO, stresses the importance of investing in small water supply systems as a dual strategy: effectively reducing the incidence of water-borne diseases and lowering the overall expenses associated with their prevention and treatment. Small water supply systems are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, both in terms of quantity and quality. This underscores the need for urgent action to ensure safe drinking water for all.

The WHO’s main recommendations in its guidelines

The WHO guideline summary details the six recommendations and related implementation actions, with additional details made available in the executive summary. The summary is about evaluating the environment of small drinking water intakes. It also outlines its regulations, which reflect the priority risks in the local context. The recommendations provide guidance on how to professionally manage small intakes and implement independent supervision and sanitary inspections. WHO also recommends strengthening the effectiveness and relevance of systems for using data for decision-making and improvement activities.

WHO guidelines in the interest of everyone

The right to water is a basic need and an elementary human right. It entitles any person to receive a safe and sufficient amount at an affordable price. This right should be an integral part of policies, programs and strategies concerning water and its use. The updated WHO guidelines include a number of technological principles and sanitary requirements to ensure that any water supply system for the public meets the necessary standards.

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