Water and sanitation are still a luxury for millions of Europeans


Easy access to adequate sanitation and sufficient amounts of safe water for drinking and hygiene at home, schools and health care facilities is essential to human health and well-being and should be a prerequisite for a decent life in the 21st century.

Of the 912 million people living in the WHO European Region, in 2015 more than 62 million lack access to an adequate sanitation facility and 14 million do not use a basic drinking-water source. While access has increased in the last decades, there are notable disparities between rural and urban areas, especially in the Caucasus and central Asia, where less than 40% of rural dwellers use piped water on premises. 

Diseases related to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) include diarrhoea, but also other disease outcomes, such as hepatitis A, legionellosis and soil-transmitted helminth infections. In the Region, 14 diarrhoea deaths a day can be attributed to inadequate WaSH. Infants and children under 5 years of age are particularly vulnerable to diarrhoea as a leading cause of malnutrition and death. 

Microbial contamination of water used for drinking, hygiene and recreation is of prime concern throughout the Region. Chemical pollution is often localized but may also have a significant impact on health. Priority chemicals in drinking-water that can cause non-infectious disease include arsenic, fluoride, lead and nitrate. 

To tackle the prevailing challenges and to close the gap in attaining equitable access to safely managed drinking-water and sanitation services for all people in the Region, WHO/Europe 

  • supports the implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health – the primary policy instrument in the WHO European Region in the water, sanitation and health domain;
  • provides evidence-based guidance and tools for strengthening the capacity of national health systems and water sectors to ensure water quality and to prevent, control and reduce water-related disease;
  • promotes risk-based management and surveillance approaches in policy and practice, including water safety plans and sanitation safety plans;
  • facilitates capacity building in accordance with WHO guidelines; and
  • offers technical advice about health interventions, including responses to emergency situations.