Published: 24 November 2015

Surrey to host WHO meeting on drinking water quality

Next week water experts at the University will meet with leading scientists to define new guidelines that could affect the lives of millions of people globally.

Safe and readily available water is essential for good health, but throughout the world, at least 1.8 billion people use contaminated drinking water which can transmit diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid. Drinking contaminated water causes the diarrhoeal deaths of an estimated 502,000 people a year, with children being particularly at risk. At the same time, climate change, increasing populations, demographic changes and increasing urbanisation mean that by 2025, half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas.

Tackling this huge global issue, the WHO (World Health Organisation) meeting, taking place from 30th November to 4th December at the University, will discuss the updating of the WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality, focusing specifically on small water supplies. The Guidelines are used to determine the minimum standards of safe water around the world, and in the developing world, they are used in place of national legislation.

Hosted by academics from Surrey’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the meeting is part of Surrey’s ongoing work as a designated WHO Collaborating Centre for the protection of water quality and human health. The meeting will bring together government advisers, policy consultants, scientists and academics from around the world.

Surrey’s specific contribution to the meeting will be to recommend ways that WHO’s sanitary inspection forms used in the field can be updated. This will include the results of interviews with 30 experts who use the forms, and some recent mini-literature reviews the Surrey team has conducted into small water supply types.

Dr Katherine Pond, who is leading this research at Surrey, explains, “Since the last Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality, published in 1997, knowledge and technology has moved on, and we now understand a lot more about how pathogens in the environment survive and move. The focus of the Guidelines is on small water supplies, such as wells and rainwater harvesting systems, because this is one of the most challenging areas of water quality management.

“Clearly this information is crucial in the developing world, where contaminated drinking water is a major cause of death, but it’s also worth noting that it has implications for the rest of the world. There are around 50,000 small water supplies in England and Wales.”

The University of Surrey has long-established expertise in the field of water quality, and was recently re-designated as a WHO Collaborating Centre for the protection of water quality and human health, marking the seventh time it has achieved recognition from the UN’s health agency for its work on water. Two centres within the University, the Robens Centre for Public and Environmental Health and the Centre for Environmental and Health Engineering, work alongside the WHO to strengthen institutional capacity for safe water sources on a global scale.


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