Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Water: Is it safe to drink?

Water: Is it safe to drink?

Water is vital for all our lives and drinking adequate amounts of safe water will contribute to good health. Every day, every person needs access to water not only to drink but also for personal hygiene.

People are travelling more often and more widely than ever before, both for work and for pleasure. This means they are often faced with environments that they are unfamiliar with, including having access to safe water. Diarrhoeal diseases, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio can all be transmitted via contaminated water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 842,000 people are estimated to die each year from diarrhoea as a result of unsafe drinking water, sanitation and hand hygiene.  In addition, it is estimated that half the world’s population will be living in areas that are water-stressed by 2025. 

Wherever you are in the world, it is important to know how to access clean water.
  • Assess and understand the risks of exposure at your destination: We analyse and evaluate any location you are sending your employees to and recommend measures that help mitigate risks.
  • Educate your travellers before they depart: Through our specialist medical information and education programmes, we help you to prepare your travellers for the local situation as well as giving advice on measures to take should the situation deteriorate.
  • Around the clock access for your travellers to specific local advice: Our qualified doctors and security specialists are there for your employees, no matter what, where or when.


Fact sheet
Reviewed November 2016

Key facts

  • In 2015, 91% of the world’s population had access to an improved drinking-water source, compared with 76% in 1990.
  • 2.6 billion people have gained access to an improved drinking-water source since 1990.

  • 4.2 billion people now get water through a piped connection; 2.4 billion access water through other improved sources including public taps, protected wells and boreholes.
  • 663 million people rely on unimproved sources, including 159 million dependent on surface water.
  • Globally, at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with faeces.
  • Contaminated water can transmit diseases such diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Contaminated drinking-water is estimated to cause 502 000 diarrhoeal deaths each year.
  • By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, 38% of health care facilities lack improved water source, 19% do not have improved sanitation and 35% lack water and soap for hand-washing.


Safe and readily available water is important for public health, whether it is used for drinking, domestic use, food production or recreational purposes. Improved water supply and sanitation, and better management of water resources, can boost countries’ economic growth and can contribute greatly to poverty reduction.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation. Everyone has the right to sufficient, continuous, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.

Access to water

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG 7) on drinking-water was met globally in 2010. The target was to halve the proportion of the world’s population without sustainable access to safe water. The 48 least developed countries did not meet the target, but substantial progress has been made with 42 per cent of the current population in these countries gaining access to improved drinking-water sources since 1990.

Sharp geographic, sociocultural and economic inequalities persist, not only between rural and urban areas but also in towns and cities where people living in low-income, informal or illegal settlements usually have less access to improved sources of drinking-water than other residents.

Water and health

Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Absent, inadequate, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services expose individuals to preventable health risks. This is particularly the case in health care facilities where both patients and staff are placed at additional risk of infection and disease when water, sanitation and hygiene services are lacking. Globally, 15% of patients develop an infection during a hospital stay, with the proportion much greater in low-income countries.

Inadequate management of urban, industrial and agricultural wastewater means the drinking-water of hundreds of millions of people is dangerously contaminated or chemically polluted.

Some 842 000 people are estimated to die each year from diarrhea as a result of unsafe drinking-water, sanitation and hand hygiene. But diarrhea is largely preventable, and the deaths of 361 000 children aged under 5 each year could be avoided each year if these risk factors were addressed. Where water is not readily available, people may decide hand-washing is not a priority, thereby adding to the likelihood of diarrhea and other diseases. 
Diarrhea is the most widely known disease linked to contaminated food and water but there are other hazards. Almost 240 million people are affected by schistosomiasis – an acute and chronic disease caused by parasitic worms contracted through exposure to infested water.

In many parts of the world, insects that live or breed in water carry and transmit diseases such as dengue fever. Some of these insects, known as vectors, breed in clean, rather than dirty water, and household drinking-water containers can serve as breeding grounds. The simple intervention of covering water storage containers can reduce vector breeding and may also have a co-benefit of reducing faecal contamination of water at the household level.

Economic and social effects

When water comes from improved and more accessible sources, people spend less time and effort in physically collecting it, meaning they can be productive in other ways. It can also result in greater personal safety by reducing the need to make long or risky journeys to collect water. Better water sources also mean less expenditure on health, as people are less likely to fall ill and incur medical costs, and are better able to remain economically productive. 
With children particularly at risk from water-related diseases, access to improved sources of water can result in better health and therefore better school attendance, with longer-term consequences for their lives.

Water sources

The MDG water target is measured by the proxy indicator of use of ‘improved’ or ‘unimproved’ drinking-water sources. But ‘improved sources’ are not necessarily safe. At least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source that is contaminated with faecal matter. A substantial proportion of water supplied through pipes is contaminated, especially where water supply is intermittent or treatment is inadequate. Even where the source is good, water can be contaminated while being transported or stored, especially in environments where sanitation is inadequate.


Climate change, increasing water scarcity, population growth, demographic changes and urbanization already pose challenges for water supply systems. By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. Re-use of wastewater, to recover water, nutrients, or energy, is becoming an important strategy. Increasingly countries are using wastewater for irrigation – in developing countries this represents 7% of irrigated land. While this practice if done inappropriately poses health risks, safe management of wastewater can yield multiple benefits, including increased food production.

Options for water sources used for drinking-water and irrigation will continue to evolve, with an increasing reliance on groundwater and alternative sources, including wastewater. Climate change will lead to greater fluctuations in harvested rainwater. Management of all water resources will need to be improved to ensure provision and quality.

WHO's response

As the international authority on public health and water quality, WHO leads global efforts to prevent transmission of waterborne disease, advising governments on the development of health-based targets and regulations. 
WHO produces a series of water quality guidelines, including on drinking-water, safe use of wastewater, and safe recreational water environments. The water quality guidelines are based on managing risks, and since 2004 the Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality included the promotion of Water Safety Plans to identify and prevent risks before water is contaminated. In 2015, WHO introduced the concept of Sanitation Safety Plans to support implementation of the wastewater guidelines. WHO works on promoting effective risk assessment and management practices among all groups, including suppliers of drinking water, wastewater treatment companies, farmers, communities and individuals. 
Since 2014, WHO has been testing household water treatment products against WHO health-based performance criteria through the WHO International ‘Scheme’ to Evaluate Household Water Treatment Technologies. The aim of the Scheme is to ensure that products distributed protect users from the pathogens that cause diarrhea disease and to strengthen policy, regulatory, and monitoring mechanisms at the national level to support appropriate targeting and consistent and correct use of such products. 
WHO works closely with UNICEF in a number of areas concerning water and health. For example, the integrated global action plan to end preventable child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea by 2025 (GAPPD) sets out several prevention and treatment targets, including achieving universal access to drinking water in health care facilities and homes by 2030. The means of implementation for the work in health care facilities cuts across several health areas, including quality universal health coverage, and the two agencies have established a work plan to incrementally work towards universal access at the facility, national and global level.


Embracing the unfamiliar

The world is a wildly varied and fast-changing place. When it comes to health and security, every location is different. The same applies to organisations; every set of needs are different. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employee healthcare or travel security.

Therefore, our approach is consultative. We can help you assess the risks associated with every working environment and design appropriate preventive programmes – including risk assessments, standards,  and policies – to protect your organisation and your people at all times. 

Our solution

How it works

Our diverse team of doctors, epidemiologists, public health specialists, security experts and other professionals have the deep knowledge and experience you need to respond appropriately, no matter what the medical or security risk  may be or where and when it takes place.

By working with our team of experts, you will receive all you need to develop a solid understanding of health and security risks facing your organisation, so as to be able to  give your people all the support and protection they need – wherever they are.

How it helps

When your people work in unfamiliar locations, often with a volatile security profile and deficient medical infrastructure, you need to be sure that you’re providing the right support to ensure their health and security.
And even when your teams are based in a more developed economy, we  know that business travellers and international assignees often find that limited local knowledge, cultural differences and language barriers mean they need help in finding the support they need.
Working with us to ensure you have the right approach to managing health and security risks, and the right standards, and corporate plans  in place will help you ensure the organisation is delivering everything it can for its people and achieve its organisational goals.
Tracking > Assess
Assessing your risks means not only offering ways to prepare your global workforce prior to their assignment or trip, but also assessing your overall organisation’s medical and security risks quickly and simply. Our programme does both.

Helping you build an organisation-wide understanding of your risk exposure

Thanks to expert local knowledge on a global scale, International SOS provides you with health and security risk maps and information. This information is designed to help you better understand health and security risks in the markets where you operate, identifying the need to put measures in place that ensure business continuity. This expertise enable decision makers to immediately recognise which destinations require adequate preventive risk assessment procedures and preparation programmes.

Pre-travel/assignment briefings for your travellers; online and on call
Going to an unknown destination can seem daunting whether on a short trip or for a longer international assignment. However, with the right pre-travel advice, your travellers can prepare for what lies ahead. Members can simply call our medical and security experts for assistance, or they can log into our members-only website to access essential medical, personal safety and travel information on countries or events around the world.

Access medical and travel security information anywhere on-the-go
We encourage all our members to download our free smartphone assistance app; they can use this to speed dial their nearest Assistance Centre or to instantly search for our latest medical and travel security advice for any location, including where they currently are.
By having mobile access to this information, members can make well-informed decisions on critical health and safety issues that may affect their wellbeing.

Your own Communications Portal

Ease-of-access is key when communicating information and analysis to your people. Next to the information available through our app, our company creates a Communications Portal for you. Accessible to your teams, it can include your organisation-specific travel policy information or other important messages you wish to communicate to travellers and international assignees. It is also an easy way to encourage your travellers to obtain destination-specific travel information and register to receive our latest advice by email, making it easier for them to be prepared and have access to your organisation’s specific pre-travel requirements.

Pre-trip Advisories

Complementing your Communications Portal, our company has designed an automated pre-trip advisory, which gets sent to your travellers upon their booking with a travel agency or when they register their trip online.

Contents of the advisory include details of the itinerary, medical, vaccination, security, travel and cultural information, important contact information and a link to download the assistance app. The pre-trip advisory can further be customised to your needs. Sending rules are also tailored to the level of risk of the destination or any other specifics your organisation may have.

Going to destinations at risk? Are your people ‘TravelReady’?

Including a TravelReady link in Pre-trip Advisories improves the compliance rate with which travellers read and take in the advice within the advisory. This is critically important for  destinations deemed ‘at risk’ by your organisation, albeit form a medical, security, or IT point of view. The better prepared travellers are before they travel, the less likely they are to suffer disruption or threats to their health and safety during their trip.

Access to traveller responses show managers whether travellers are prepared for a trip or whether they need to discuss their trip and seek further advice from a security manager, for instance. For travellers, the form serves a simple “checklist” in preparation of their trip.

TravelReady’s purpose is to encourage compliance, giving you a tool that automates processes based on  your corporate policies. It can help drive compliance in your organisation for instance around:

• Capturing acknowledgment of pre-travel briefing.
• Immigration and visa requirements
• Securing specific security details around a trip
• Enforcing and reminding your people of IT policies (checking international roaming for phones, etc...)

Understand the medical risks in the markets where you operate. The higher the risk, the more preparation you need for business travel.

Mitigating travel risks on a business trip to India. Find out how we can help to ensure your business trip goes smoothly.


No one is ever very far from being affected by a potential medical or security incident, whether in the workplace, while travelling on business or simply going about everyday life.

For employers across the world, ensuring their people are prepared and informed about the practical aspects of medical and security risk  is a crucial aspect of their Duty of Care to their employees.

We believe that proper training can make a crucial difference – First Aid, Health and Wellbeing and Travel Risk training for members of a mobile workforce.

Our portfolio of Medical and Security Training  Services, delivered by our qualified  professionals, makes it easy for organisations to communicate with, educate and train their people across a broad range of medical and security issues.

Our solution

How it works

Research shows that the actions taken in the first few minutes of an incident are critical. So our First Aid training equips your people with the essential life-saving skills they need when every minute counts.

Equally important, our Travel Risk Training proactively prepares employees before they leave on an assignment. These can be generic or destination-specific, but the aim is always to improve understanding of the most significant medical and security risks your people may face.

We also provide Health & Wellbeing training that helps employees to make informed decisions for better health, leading to a happier and more productive workforce.
Our training solutions are delivered either in a traditional classroom, a virtual classroom or through eLearning delivered via the OUR COMPANY Training Hub.

How it helps

Not only does our training aim to reduce the frequency and impact of medical and security incidents affecting your business, it also aids employee development and staff retention.

As well as helping you to maintain business continuity, it serves to safeguard your reputation through streamlining compliance with local and international regulations, and your own Corporate Social Responsibility goals. Furthermore, by evidencing your commitment to employee safety, it mitigates the risk of legal liability.
January 2017
Female travel safety has made international headlines, especially following a number of attacks in India. Today, there are more women travelling for business than ever before and organisations are looking for support and advice to help business travelers and expats stay protected; ensuring their work is uninterrupted.

Travel protection abroad: Safety tips for business women

female Travel POCKET GUIDE


Effectively manage your business, financial and reputational risks by protecting your most valuable assets - your people

Female travel safety has made international headlines, especially following a number of attacks in India. Today, there are more women travelling for business than ever before and organisations are looking for support and advice to help business travellers and international assignees stay protected; ensuring their work is uninterrupted.

While there are certain safety rules all travellers should follow, female travellers may face unique security situations when abroad. Women are often viewed as vulnerable targets, and will generally face a higher level of risk than their male counterparts. The main threats more likely affecting women are: sexual harassment, sexual assault and bag theft (which may seem trivial on the surface, but can lead to larger issues).

Our company is playing a leading role in providing specific advice and support for medical and security risks, no matter where your people are. Our specialist teams are working around the clock to keep your employees protected and business moving.

  • Assess and understand the risks of exposure at your destination: We analyse and evaluate any location you are sending your employees to and recommend measures that help mitigate risks.
  • Educate your travellers before they depart: Through our specialist security information and education programmes, we help you to prepare your travellers for the local situation as well as advise on measures to take should the situation deteriorate.
  • Around the clock access for your travellers to specific local advice: Our qualified doctors and security specialists are there for your employees, no matter what, where or when.
  • Stay connected with your travellers and keep track of them in a high risk location: We make sure your employees receive the latest information and are prepared at all times.
Achieve your goals and avoid loss of time and productivity by preparing your employees for travel and supporting them when they are in unfamiliar and remote locations. We help to keep your people healthy and safe, so you can focus on your core business activities.


Future risks - increasing your knowledge

In India’s elections in 2014 the issue of women’s safety was nominally addressed by candidates for all three major parties. However, it remains vital that female travellers are aware of any potential risks and know how to protect themselves.

Our Assistance Centres around the world are in contact with clients to discuss their concerns and the preventive measures they can put in place to reduce risks both to employees and their families.

Local knowledge on a global scale

The true risk of so many differing environments around the world can only be assessed by our unrivalled local knowledge and experience gained from our in-country presence. Only through our unique Assistance Centre footprint (ISO9001:2008 accredited), is it possible to provide real-time medical and security advice or support, in a language your employees are most comfortable speaking. We speak 99 different languages and dialects and every case is managed to full resolution via our single global case management platform.

A single point of contact for medical and security

We understand that medical situations can include security issues and vice versa. We can help you put in place an integrated medical and security policy and procedure that is supported by one provider and a single-point-of-contact for your employees.

Our advice is only designed to help organisations achieve their goals. Therefore, the information and advice we provide is based on known facts; it is uninfluenced by political agendas or rumours. Helping you to make business-appropriate and well-informed decisions.

An employee benefit

Establishing a relationship with our company, has become a key part of thousands of organisations’ employee benefits programme. Helping you to build your reputation as an employer with employee wellbeing at its heart.

Return on Prevention (RoP)

In 2011, The OUR COMPANY released a first-of-its-kind benchmarking study into the adoption of duty-of-care practices around the world; insurance was found to be no longer enough when it comes to ensuring the health and safety of travellers. The study has since been put into action – forming the world’s first Global Framework – which provides strategic guidance on how to identify the risks workforces face and where preventive programmes can be put into place to ensure the safety, health and security of employees when abroad.
Our research shows that organisations who invest in prevention programmes commonly experience both direct and indirect cost benefits. We can work with you to ensure your programme(s) achieve the same. See our global benchmarking study, global framework, and RoP study here. 

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