WHO launches new standards for drinking water

The World Health Organisation's (WHO) Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality (Third Edition) (GDWQ) were launched at the IWA Congress in Marrakech in September. They are intended to help regulators and service providers the world over maintain and improve the quality of their potable water.

“This is an extremely important change in orientation from a public health point of view,” said Dr Kerstin Leitner, WHO assistant director-general for sustainable development. “The revised guidelines will allow public health management to focus on prevention of microbial and chemical contamination of water supplies. They have as much applicability whether we are talking about an urban drinking water system in North America or protected wells in the developing world.”

The updated standards portray a paradigm shift in the management of drinking water provision. Henceforth, the recommended approach is for regulators and operators to manage drinking water quality in a systematic fashion, from source to tap.

Recommended levels for over 100 chemicals have been revised in line with the latest scientific evidence and, because routine monitoring for all chemicals is not possible, practical approaches to prioritise testing is provided.

The over-riding message is that prevention can have a much greater impact on water quality and human health than response.

Developed alongside the WHO Guidelines, and launched on the same day, is their companion, The Bonn Charter for Safe Drinking Water. This high-level framework, produced through the International Water Association (IWA), describes the necessary operational and institutional requirements for managing water supplies throughout the supply chain and in the context of the whole water cycle. A supplementary implementation guide is also planned.

Delivery of good safe drinking water requires a comprehensive understanding of contamination risks and effective control of those risks. Whilst acknowledging that local conditions will inevitably shape the institutions created, IWA claims that the Charter provides a framework for establishing the necessary systems enabling all stakeholders to assess and mitigate risks.

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