Estimating the impact on health of poor reliability of drinking water interventions in developing countries

Paul R. Hunter*, Denis Zmirou-Navier, Philippe Hartemann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Citations (Scopus)


Recent evidence suggests that many improved drinking water supplies suffer from poor reliability. This study investigates what impact poor reliability may have on achieving health improvement targets. A Quantitative Microbiological Risk Assessment was conducted of the impact of interruptions in water supplies that forced people to revert to drinking raw water. Data from the literature were used to construct models on three waterborne pathogens common in Africa: Rotavirus, Cryptosporidium and Enterotoxigenic E. coli. Risk of infection by the target pathogens is substantially greater on days that people revert to raw water consumption. Over the course of a few days raw water consumption, the annual health benefits attributed to consumption of water from an improved supply will be almost all lost. Furthermore, risk of illness on days drinking raw water will fall substantially on very young children who have the highest risk of death following infection. Agencies responsible for implementing improved drinking water provision will not make meaningful contributions to public health targets if those systems are subject to poor reliability. Funders of water quality interventions in developing countries should put more effort into auditing whether interventions are sustainable and whether the health benefits are being achieved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2621-2624
Number of pages4
JournalScience of the Total Environment, The
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Developing countries
  • Diarrhoea
  • Risk assessment
  • Water contamination
  • Water supply


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