1.5 million children die every year from drinking polluted water.


From this.

Is that really true?

  • Can you find the original source for this image/claim (it looks like it's from UNICEF, if legitimate)? I don't think an image from someone's profile counts as notable. – iamnotmaynard Jul 2 '16 at 3:49
  • Image source. Perhaps someone photoshopped this rather than getting the image from UNICEF. – Brythan Jul 2 '16 at 6:21

Not exactly

It looks like the statistic comes from a UNICEF report:

It is estimated that unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation and hygiene every year claim the lives of more than 1.5 million children under five years old from diarrhoea.

Note that this statistic is different. It's not just "polluted" water but also lack of basic sanitation and hygiene. This would also include things like not washing one's hands after going to the bathroom.

Many of us in the developed world may find the claim here confusing. From the image:

1.5 million children die every year from drinking polluted water.

When I see the word polluted, I am thinking about industrial waste. That doesn't seem to be the issue here. UNICEF is concerned more about water mixed with sewage and the lack of water leading to unsanitary habits.

This is a real statistic, but somewhat misleadingly paraphrased. Many readers will naturally expect it to mean something entirely different from what it is claiming. It's saying that 1.5 million children, mostly in developing countries, die from complications related to a lack of a clean water supply. The way it is framed though, it sounds like 1.5 million children are dying from industrial waste. But the report makes no mention of industrial waste. It's talking about a lack of water treatment plants (before use) and sewage treatment plants (after use).

  • 1
    I would consider water tainted with human feces to be "polluted". – David Hammen Jul 2 '16 at 13:09
  • @DavidHammen Sure. My point is that I don't hear "polluted water" and think "tainted with feces". It's technically true but misleading when said like that. Calling it "unsanitary water" would be clearer. Also, as seen in the quote some of this currently is not the water but the associated hygiene. – Brythan Jul 2 '16 at 14:26
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    @DavidHammen Of people old enough to vote, I'm older than half. If this is misleading to me because of age, then it is going to be misleading to most people reading it. And as I said, replacing "polluted" with "unsanitary" would be clear to both of us. Particularly since very few children die while camping. In terms of life outside cities, you should realize that my grandparents' house still doesn't have public/community water or sewage, even though my grandparents are no longer with us. Please, if you're going to post on Skeptics, let go of your prejudices. – Brythan Jul 2 '16 at 14:55
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    Aren't many natural water sources already dangerous? Water borne pathogens are common in some areas without human activity involved. Could the stat include that as well? – fredsbend Jul 2 '16 at 15:40
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    Yes. That bloody nature. Always going off "polluting" the water. – Brythan Jul 2 '16 at 15:44

1.5 million children die every year from drinking polluted water. Is that really true?

If one considers drinking water tainted with human and animal feces to be "polluted" (and how can one not do so), this was true a decade ago, and was significantly worse a decade before that. This 1997 New York Times article put the death toll from unsafe drinking water at 3.1 million people annually, almost all of them children. This 2006 UNICEF report put the death toll at 1.5 million children annually.

These stark numbers have been reduced considerable by simple measures such as education and making cheap oral rehydration therapy readily available in the underdeveloped and developing world. The current rate is about 80000 per year, per the Center for Disease Control. Making the drinking water itself safe would be a much more expensive undertaking.

  • Your 2006 link goes to the same place as I linked. So some of the 1.5 million is not from the water but the associated sanitation and hygiene caused by a shortage of water rather than contaminants in the water. – Brythan Jul 2 '16 at 14:26

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