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Fall 2007 Vol. 7 No. 3

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Sudan, ©Shehzad Noorani/UNICEF New Web Resource Aims to Improve Drinking Water Quality Worldwide

More than 1 billion people -- mainly living in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and other parts of the developing world -- lack access to safe drinking water, a fundamental need for human health. As much as 80 percent of the world's deadliest diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation. Contaminated drinking water is also far more than a public health problem. The devastating effects negatively impact everything from economic development to educational attainment in those countries most affected by inadequate or unsafe drinking water supplies.

To take action on this pressing problem, the National Academy of Sciences and the Global Health and Education Foundation joined together with science, engineering, and medical academies around the world to launch Safe Drinking Water Is Essential -- a new online resource designed to provide decision makers with easily accessible, peer-reviewed scientific and technical information about the options available to enhance the safety and availability of drinking water supplies.

Ethiopia, ©Marla Smith-Nilson/WaterPartners International"Americans lose sight of how precious safe drinking water is," said NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone at a public briefing to launch the new Web resource. "The fact that there is so much unsafe drinking water is a critical problem facing most parts of the world now. The world's scientists have been working on and are very committed to addressing this problem. [This tool] can be used by people working in all nations to analyze and find solutions for the treatment and distribution of water locally with their own conditions," he explained.

"We've seen the misery in the world that's caused by bad water," added Kenneth Behring, founder of the Global Health and Education Foundation, which provided funding for Safe Drinking Water Is Essential. "When you go to these countries and see the water that people drink, they don't have the background or education to even know that it causes disabilities. [With this Web Resource,] we put together an information center that can be expanded for people who want to know more about how to get water that's pure."

Tanout, Niger, ©Giacomo Pirozzi/UNICEFSafe Drinking Water Is Essential -- located at <> -- is an interactive site that provides in-depth information on the sources of drinking water, common naturally occurring and human-induced contaminants, distribution problems, and treatment options. Users will find case studies on problems and conditions specific to different regions of the world, such as an overview of agricultural and industrial pollution in China or arsenic in Bangladesh. Other case studies provide details on household water treatment options or distribution solutions such as community pumps in Niger. An atlas provides global and regional views of access to safe water in urban and rural areas.

To ensure that this vital knowledge reaches people who need it most, more than 125 science, medical, and engineering academies worldwide are disseminating information about Safe Drinking Water Is Essential, which is available in five languages. In addition, those who don't have easy access to the Internet can obtain a CD-ROM version from the Koshland Science Museum; 1-888-KOSHLAND or Ten thousand free CDs have been produced for distribution to the Peace Corps and other nongovernmental organizations working to improve water quality.

The Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences developed the Web resource in collaboration with the Water Science and Technology Board and Office of International Programs of the National Research Council. A scientific steering committee of experts on drinking water issues was convened to develop the content, which also draws on reports from the Research Council.   -- Molly Galvin

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Copyright 2007 by the National Academy of Sciences