Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 5: Health Problems from Unsafe Water

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 5: Health Problems from Unsafe Water


Waste from a hotel, latrine, livestock and people contaminates a stream through a village.

No one can live without water. To be healthy, people need enough water and they need the water to be safe. Water is not safe when germs and worms from human and animal wastes (urine and feces) get into it. The germs and worms can be passed through the water or from one person to another, causing many serious health problems and affecting a whole community.

Chemicals from agriculture, industry, and mining, and trash dumping can also make our water unsafe and cause illnesses such as skin rashes, cancers, and other serious health problems.

Not having enough water for drinking, cooking, and washing can lead to sickness. Especially when there is no way to wash hands after using the toilet, diarrhea diseases spread quickly from person to person. A shortage of water for personal cleanliness can also lead to infections of the eyes and skin. Lack of water can cause dehydration (losing too much water in the body) and death.

Not having enough water may be due to drought (dry weather for a long time), the high cost of water, or because water has not been well conserved.

Contamination of water can make the effects of water scarcity worse, and likewise, water scarcity can make contamination more serious. (For information on protecting water sources and making water clean and safe, see Chapter 6. For safe sanitation, see Chapter 7.)


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