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IAEA Marks World Water Day´s Emphasis on Sanitation

Enhancing awareness of sanitation issues is the focus of this year´s World Water Day. The IAEA helps its Member States to manage water supplies using techniques such as isotope hydrology. (Photo: J. Perez Vargas, IAEA)

Bringing the issue of sanitation to the forefront of public consciousness is the aim of this year´s World Water Day, marked by the IAEA and other UN organizations on 20 March. Under the UN-Water mechanism, the IAEA is one among several UN agencies working to respond to global water issues. Through its Water Resources Programme, the IAEA supports its Member States by providing science-based information and technical training to better understand and manage their water resources, potentially leading to improved sanitation.

"For years, sanitation was not given as high a priority on the water agenda as much as it is now. People were more focused on drinking water," said Pradeep Aggarwal, head of the IAEA´s water resources programme. "But attention to sanitation issues has grown in recent years. In urban areas especially, sanitation is just as important as assuring a clean drinking supply."

Ensuring a sanitary environment which limits the spread of disease and assures a clean supply requires identifying constant and reliable water resources, a key function of the IAEA´s water programme.

Four out of ten people on the planet have no access to improved sanitation, leading to devastating rates of disease and contaminated food and water supplies. When human waste is poorly managed, viruses and parasites can pose significant public health challenges which can result in onset of deadly disease. An estimated 1.8 million people die annually from diarrhoea-related diseases caused by poor hygiene and sanitation issues.

Access to water and sanitary facilities are of vital importance and comprise some of the world´s most pressing development challenges. UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon has stressed the importance of international cooperation to overcoming the problem.

"When you consider the health and development challenges facing the poorest of the world's population, diseases like malaria or tuberculosis, rising food prices, environmental degradation; the common denominator often seems to be water," said Secretary General Ban-ki Moon. "World Water Day offers a chance to spotlight these issues."

The IAEA aims to help its Member States attain greater self-sufficiency in using scientific methods to better understand and manage water resources. Through isotope hydrology, the IAEA employs nuclear-related techniques to help States ascertain important information about a water source. By identifying the size, origin, flow and age of a particular water source, the IAEA can help planners to better manage their water resources. Through its Technical Cooperation programme, the IAEA currently has more than 80 on-going projects in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America that map underground aquifers, manage ground and surface water, monitor dam leakage and safety and help control pollution.


World Water Day has been celebrated each year on March 22 since 1993, and the theme and organization of international activities is coordinated by one or more UN agencies. This year´s theme of sanitation is being led by the United Nations Children´s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Celebrations are scheduled to be held in Geneva and New York.

UN-Water is a mechanism created in 2003 to help Member States to achieve international development goals related to water and sanitation issues. The IAEA is one of twenty-four UN agencies and programmes that are involved in UN-Water.

Last update: 27 July 2017