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A lack of access to clean water and sanitation is a worldwide killer claiming millions of lives

Tuesday March 22, 2011

Globally each year roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Melbourne - around four million people - is wiped out by disease linked to a lack of safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

Unsafe water and poor sanitation have claimed more lives worldwide over the past century than any other cause - more than war, more than malnutrition, more than natural disasters. People continue to die from preventable illnesses like diarrheal diseases and dehydration.

'In Asia Pacific, many of the region's poor communities still live without running water - there are no taps, no showers, no flushing toilets, no nearby springs,' said Australian Red Cross Water and Sanitation Manager Bob Handby. 'Every day people who live in these communities must walk hours to the nearest water source, but very often that water is contaminated and those who use it end up sick.'

'Usually it is the women and children who spend hours carrying buckets of water - used for daily drinking, cooking and washing - from remote mountainous streams many miles from their villages.'

World Water Day (22 March 2011) is a global effort to spotlight the plight of billions of people worldwide who don't have access to clean water and adequate sanitation facilities, and the millions of people who spend hours a day collecting water.

Australian Red Cross is working closely with communities, authorities and local Red Cross societies across Asia and the Pacific to improve access to water and sanitation systems, but there are still billions of people worldwide that need help.

'No single intervention has the power to have a greater impact on community development and public health than the provision of safe drinking water and the construction of toilets,' said Mr Handby, who travels around the world for Red Cross setting up water and sanitation projects and helping to restore water supplies following disasters.

'For everyone, no matter where they live on this planet, water means life and wherever there is a lack of clean water and sanitation then disease, death and economic hardship take over,' he said. 'Chronic water and sanitation problems are one of the greatest issues facing the world today and there is a need for major investment to bring significant change.'

Governments have the principal responsibility to tackle these issues but aid agencies also play a critical role. Australian Red Cross is proud to be associated with ultra marathon runner Pat Farmer's run from the North Pole to the South Pole. The purpose of this momentous journey is to raise awareness of water sanitation issues, and raise money for Red Cross water sanitation projects across the globe. Pat will begin the Pole to Pole Run, the longest run on earth, next month and is scheduled to reach the South Pole in January 2012.

Support Red Cross' work helping vulnerable people in Australia and the Asia Pacific or Pat Farmer's Pole to Pole Run by making a donation.

Some four million people die each year from diseases associated with the lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

Dirty water and poor sanitation are the second biggest killer of children worldwide. Some 4,000 children under five die every day from those same associated diseases.

Worldwide 2.7 billion people do not have adequate sanitation facilities.

And 880 million people do not have access to clean water.

Bob Handby has been with Red Cross for more than 25 years, helping to provide water supplies and sanitation facilities to people in need in disaster and conflict zones all over the world. Last year he went to Pakistan following the devastating floods that swept across the country. He is available for interviews.

Available for interview:
For media enquiries or to arrange interviews contact Red Cross media adviser Katie Isaac on 0408 858 255 or email