Millions of people across Europe drink contaminated water, often without knowing it, a new United Nations’ report warned on Tuesday.
Some 57 million people across Europe and North America do not have piped water at home, the UN estimates in its latest annual World Water Development report released on Tuesday.
A further 21 million people lack access to basic drinking water services while another 36 million do not have access to basic sanitation, relying instead on unsafe, shared or unsustainable sanitation.
The situation is most severe in rural areas and in Central Asia and the Caucasus where 72% of the people have no access to basic water services.
But the UN warns that “many citizens in Western and Central Europe, as well as in North America, also suffer from the lack of or inequitable access to water and sanitation services.”
“Inequities are frequently related to socio-cultural differences, socio-economic factors and the geographical context,” it explains.
14 deaths per day
The European Commision estimated last year that water scarcity affects at least 11% of the European population.
Inadequate water bears strong human, ecologic and economic costs. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that every day, 14 people die of diarrhoeal disease caused by unsafe water.
According to WHO statistics, 480 people died in Germany in 2016 because of exposure to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. It was followed by France, which recorded 172 such deaths and the UK with 130 fatalities.
Lack of access also forces people to buy bottled water. Improving access to safe water would thus help European households to save more than €600 million per year, the EU Commission calculated. It would also, it noted, help to achieve one of the objectives from the Paris Climate Agreement as reducing the consumption of bottled water from 100 to 88 litres per year by 2050, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.2 million tonnes CO2.
The UN recommends that inequities in access should focus on reducing geographical disparities by addressing specific barriers faced by marginalised groups and people living in vulnerable situations and by reducing affordability concerns.
It highlighted efforts made in the Greater Paris area as well as in North Macedonia to assess the level of equity of access to water and sanitation. It also praised Armenia’s 2017 action plan to improve access for the 579 rural communities not serviced by centralised water supplies.
Some 2.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water with 4.3 billion lacking access to safe sanitation facilities, according to the UN.