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UN-backed treaty to prevent water-borne diseases in Europe enters into force

UN-backed treaty to prevent water-borne diseases in Europe enters into force

Water being tested for purity and diseases
A treaty to prevent such water-related diseases as cholera, dysentery and typhoid through the provision of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation in cross-boundary European river basins entered into force today, following its ratification by the required 16 countries, according to the United Nations health agency.

“It’s a significant day for public health,” said Dr. Marc Danzon, Regional Director for Europe for the UN World Health Organization (WHO). “The Protocol on Water and Health is the world’s first legally binding international agreement in the fight against water-related diseases.”

The Protocol is appended to the 1992 Convention on Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. It calls on ratifying countries to improve their health systems, the quality of their water supplies, their sanitation services and their management of water resources, and to address future health risks and ensure safe recreational water environments.

It has been ratified, to date, by Albania, Azerbaijan, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Much of the water resources in the region are shared over national boundaries, so international cooperation is crucial to ensure its sustainable use, according to WHO. Some countries, in fact, depend on their neighbours for over 50 to 90 per cent of their water.

While most of the region’s 877 million people take clean water for granted, WHO says, poor sanitation and lack of safe drinking water threaten the health of millions of people there. Almost 140 million, or 16 per cent, do not have a household connection to a drinking water supply, 85 million (ten per cent) do not have improved sanitation, and over 41 million (5 per cent) lack access to a safe drinking water supply.

Water-related diseases of microbiological origin that are identified for priority action include cholera, bacillary dysentery, enterohaemorrhagic E. coli, typhoid, paratyphoid and viral hepatitis A.

The countries that are Parties to the Protocol will review their systems for disease surveillance and outbreak detection, and take measures to reduce disease, including vaccination or water treatment and distribution programmes. Chemical contaminants of drinking water and related diseases are also under review.

In the WHO European Region, the implementation of the Protocol’s provisions is jointly coordinated by the WHO Regional Office for Europe and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).