waterborne diseases

Waterborne Diseases: Their Causes and Prevention Measures


Waterborne Diseases: Their Causes and Prevention Measures

Very often, we ignore basic good habits such as washing our hands, or flushing the toilet or cleaning our homes properly. The result can be detrimental to our health and well-being and that of our families and loved ones. Children are particularly more susceptible to Waterborne diseases than adults due to weaker immune systems. The threat of people falling sick is magnified when our surroundings and personal hygiene are compromised. 

Therefore, good hygiene and sanitary practices are crucial for good health. This includes personal habits and also access to clean drinking water to ensure and maintain hygiene and sanitation. However, access to these services remains a huge challenge. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports –

  • Only 71% of the proportion of the global population has access to safe drinking water
  • 2 billion people worldwide use a drinking-water source contaminated with faeces

UN-Water states the following facts to describe the current situation with respect to water access and water quality:

  • 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services
  • 4.2 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services. 
  • 297 000 children under five die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water.


Indeed, the statistics are appalling and unbelievable. One cannot imagine the magnitude of the global water crisis and its repercussions on millions of people worldwide. Several efforts have already been made to improve access to water and subsequently hygiene and sanitation as a global public health measure. However, over 2 billion people are still vulnerable to water insecurity and susceptible to life-threatening waterborne diseases.


WASH on the Global Stage: WASH as a Human Right and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)

In 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right. The UN General Assembly urged the nations of the world to scale up international efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation. The urgency was amplified by making Clean Water and Sanitation a Sustainable Development Goal (no. 6) to be achieved by 2030. 

Globalizing WASH was an important step by the global community to highlight the plight of millions of people all over the world who face water shortages, a lack of access to clean drinking water resulting in several health problems and even epidemics. 


Waterborne Diseases and Their Causes

Water is a resource that sustains all life on Earth. Water is important to absorb nutrients from the food we eat so that we are nourished and healthy. So when the quality of water is compromised, this leads to illnesses and other serious waterborne diseases which increase the burden of disease in people who already face social and economic challenges. Several livelihoods such as farming and agriculture are dependent on water. 

According to Narayana Health, the following are the two main causes of waterborne illnesses and diseases:

  • Pollution

    dangerous levels of chemicals, nitrates or heavy metals in the water supply due to industrial pollution or the over-use of agricultural chemicals.

  • Dirt & Contamination

    Bacteria, viruses and parasitic organisms invisibly contaminate the water and cause disease. Much of this contamination is through water coming into contact with an animal and human waste. Just one gram of faeces can contain up to 100 billion microbes.


According to Water Aid, the absence of clean water and corresponding sanitation and hygiene makes infection control and prevention extremely difficult. This quickly results in disease outbreaks which are hard to control in the absence of WASH and considerably slows down recovery speed. In case of a single case and even a pandemic such as Ebola and SARS, a high level of hygiene and sanitation, which is possible with access to clean water, is absolutely essential for infection control. In the absence of proper handwashing, doctors and nurses must prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection from spreading.

The following are some serious and life-threatening diseases associated with unclean water:

  1. Dysentery
  2. Typhoid Fever
  3. Cholera
  4. Hepatitis A
  5. Trachoma
  6. Shigellosis
  7. Cryptosporidium
  8. Cyclosporiasis
  9. Diarrheal Disease
  10. Gastroenteritis
  11. Giardiasis
  12. Guinea Worm

The above-mentioned diseases are all caused mainly by contaminated water. Water contamination is closely related to contact with human faeces. The results of these diseases can be devastating and result in organ failure and much suffering. Therefore it is very important that water security is ensured in areas facing water crises and in areas where water has a chance of being contaminated, its safety must be ensured. 


Waterborne Disease Prevention

Preventing water from getting contaminated can bring down the chances of diseases and illnesses. It can considerably reduce the burden of disease in terms of medical expenses, the burden on family members, caregivers and medical personnel. Above all, chances of survival increase drastically when there is access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation. 

With certain precautions and good practices, we can ensure the safety of water and our own well-being.

  • Ensure the water looks clean. If there are any soil or foreign particles in it, discard the water and filter the next water collection.
  • Always make sure to drink potable water or water that is filtered. Consuming untreated water is extremely risky as we don’t know how long it has been stored and how it has been handled.
  • In case the water supply in your residential area or complex is compromised, using antiseptic liquid is advisable to eliminate any harmful germs.
  • Handwashing is a simple and cost-effective method for disease prevention. It is imperative to wash your hands for 15-20 seconds. During the process, it is important to clean your fingernails, rub in between the fingers and over and under the palms of both hands. 
  • Make it a compulsory habit to wash hands after you have used the toilet, before eating and drinking anything. 
  • In the case of infants and children, it is recommended to boil water twice before cooling and offering for consumption. 
  • Children are particularly prone to diseases. Therefore, it is necessary to supervise them and urge them to wash hands or have a proper bath after they come home from school or playing outdoors.
  • Always schedule timely repairs for your filtration systems to ensure the quality of water is not compromised. 
  • Make sure that food is cooked properly. In the case of liquids such as soups, lentils etc. make sure food has reached a boiling point. Ensuring this kills foodborne and waterborne bacteria instantly.
  • Avoid eating and drinking out. Try and eat food which is cooked at home in a clean and hygienic environment. 
  • Safeguard yourself and children against serious diseases by getting the necessary vaccines such as typhoid, polio, hepatitis etc.




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