The present volume of Water and Risk addresses issues that are well known, but remain unresolved, in addition to emerging issues. Perhaps the oldest challenge in preventive health care is to achieve universal access to safe water and hygienic sanitation. Although most of the
people in Western Europe have access to a continuous supply of safe water and hygienic disposal of waste in their homes, this is not the case for countries in the eastern part of the European region, where there is still a clear gap in physical access between urban and rural areas.
UNGA Resolution 64/292 recognizing the basic human right to water clearly distinguished four criteria that need to be fulfilled: physical availability, safety, economic accessibility and organoleptic acceptability. Resolution 15/L.14 of the Human Rights Council called on States to ensure the progressive realization of this human right. The Protocol on Water and Health is a unique European instrument linking sustainable use of water resources with the fight against water-related diseases. It came into force on 4 August, 2005 and currently benefits a population larger than that of the European Union, spread over twenty-four ratifying countries. Under the terms of the Protocol, countries set and report progress towards targets including universal access to safe water and hygienic sanitation. Furthermore, parties pay special attention to physical access in rural areas, under a programme led inter alia by the German Federal Environment Agency, UBA and develop best practice guidance on ensuring equitable access to safe water and hygienic sanitation, including access for the lowest income groups, in a programme led by France. These activities are closely coordinated with global WHO programmes, in particular the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, which will, for the first time, assess physical access by income category in its 2012 report, and the UN Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS).
The Protocol on Water and Health also pays special attention to the issue of safe recreational waters, in particular enclosed bathing environments such as swimming pools and spas. Following the very successful 4th International Conference on Swimming Pools and Spas (Porto, Portugal, March 2011), consultations are currently under way to strengthen existing guidelines by addressing new areas such as occupational health aspects for workers in an enclosed recreational water environment, health benefits of the use of recreational waters, and others. It is expected that this work, starting in the European region, will ultimately feed into the update of the global WHO recommendations for safe recreational water environments.
The WHO Collaborating Centre for Health Promoting Water Management and Risk Communication has played a key role in the development of the Protocol on Water and Health, and continues to support the work of the WHO, and we look forward to continuing mutually supportive and coordinated action in the future.
WHO Regional Office for Europe Rome