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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Safe drinking water in the poorest communities

Research by a geography academic at the University of Southampton is helping international efforts to reduce the 1.9million deaths each year due to diarrhoea resulting from inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.

Research challenge

The United Nations set a target to reduce by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Last year they announced that this target had been reached five years ahead of the 2015 deadline.

Current guidelines dictate that access to public taps, standpipes or protected dug wells constitute safe drinking water but critics say this doesn’t take account of the quality of the water source which can often be piped but untreated. This throws uncertainty on the accuracy of the UN figures and means many people around the world may still be without access to safe drinking water.

The University of Southampton has been involved in the challenge to access reliable data about the number of people who don’t have safe drinking water.

Context

Every year millions of people in some of the world’s poorest communities die after catching diseases from contaminated water. Work is being continually carried out around the globe to significantly reduce this number and to increase the number of people who have access to safe drinking water.

Our solution

Dr Jim Wright, a Senior Lecturer in Geographical Information Systems at Southampton, has been involved in international efforts to provide more accurate data about the number of people with access to safe drinking water, and been part of a consortium working to develop a low cost device to test the safety of drinking water.

Jim’s research sought to provide more accurate data on access to safe drinking water in the developing world to maximise the effectiveness of interventions by global health authorities. The results of his work revealed that the estimated proportion of populations with access to safe drinking water fell markedly in four of the five countries involved in the new analysis. These data suggested previous criteria had led to a substantial overestimation of the population using safe drinking water sources.

What was the impact?

Jim’s work has contributed to evidence that casts doubt over the accuracy of the UN’s assertion that their goal for safe water access has been met.

Jim also headed a Southampton team involved in an international multidisciplinary consortium, led by the University of Bristol, working on the Aquatest programme that aimed to create a low cost device to test the safety of drinking water.

Increasing the number of people who have access to clean water
Getting access to clean water

Related Staff Member

The University of Southampton has been involved in the challenge to access reliable data about the number of people who don’t have safe drinking water.

Jim Wright - Senior Lecturer in Geographical Information Systems

Key Publications

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