ISO standards and the Protocol on Water and Health

2009-June-11

The Antigua and Barbuda Bureau of Standards (ABBS) is presents this week's article by Roger Aertgeerts, World region, Health Organization, and Pierre Studer, Chair Task Force on. Indicators and Reporting under the Protocol on Water and Health. The article entitled ISO Standards and Protocol on Water and Health focuses continues the thought on water and more specifically the role that standardization plays in ensuring that it safe for human use and consumption. Mr. Aertgeerts and Mr. Studer say thus:

"Generally speaking, when talking about access to water supply and sanitation, the European region is not considered as giving particular concern. Yet data as recent as 2006, collected by the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) in the 54 countries of the WHO European show that the sanitary revolution started in the late nineteenth century is far from complete.

The region has a total population 887,5 million. Of these, 619,5 million are urban settlers (69,9%) and 267,9 million (29,1%) are living in rural areas. Geographically, a varied picture emerged with regard to access to improved sources of water supply and sanitation.

Within the urban population, 593,3 million people have access to an improved source of water supply piped into the yard or dwelling, while 19,7 million have access to another source of improved water supply, and 3,0 million people still rely on unimproved sources of water.

In rural areas on the other hand, 210,5 million people have access to an improved source of water supply; 183,3 million have access to water piped into a dwelling, yard or plot and 57 million have access to another form of improved water supply; however 17,4 million people in rural areas in Europe still rely on unimproved sources of water.

No guarantee

The quality of drinking water in the European Union (EU) is governed by the EU Council Directive 98/83/ EC2, which replaced the older drinking- water directive 80/778/EEC. EU member states need to report every three years in a format regulated by the Reporting Directive 91/692/EEC.

Considering the reporting period 1999-2001, the Commission found3' that the parameters that most often cause non-compliance at a European level include total coliforms, faecal coliforms, faecal streptococci, as well as pesticides, nitrates, nitrite and a number of organoleptic characterististics.

As for the eastern parts of the European region, several studies indicate that the situation is much worse compared to the western part. Due to common disrepair of urban infrastructure and adduction pipelines, having a piped connection in house, yard or plot does not guarantee a sustainable supply of safe water. Leakages in the distribution networks are common, continuity of the supply is uncertain, and water quality often fails to meet WHO's quality guidelines.

Protocol on Water and Health

In 1999, 36 countries of the European region signed the Protocol on Water and Health5 to the 1999 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Waters and International Lakes. This Protocol is the first international instrument linking sustainable water resource management with the protection of human health - specifically, the reduction of water-related diseases.

WHO and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) serve as co-Secretaries for the Protocol, which obliges parties to set targets, and then monitor and report on progress. The targets address:

  • the quality of the drinking water supplied;
  • the coverage of water services;
  • the levels of performance to be achieved by such systems;
  • the application of recognized good managerial practice.

The parties to the Protocol established a task force with the mandate of developing a minimum set of common and regionally harmonized indicators2. The task force recognized the relevance of the holistic risk assessment I risk management approach, termed a Water Safety Plan (WSP)°, and used this as a basis for its work.

Relevance of ISO standards

ISO standards are relevant to the provision of safe drinking water throughout the entire implementation of a WSP (see Figure 2). In particular, these include:

  • guidance on sampling contained in the ISO 5667 series (Water quality - Sampling), particularly in Parts 1 to6, 14 and 16;
  • water quality assessment through the many standards developed by ISO technical committee ISO/TC 147, Water quality, as well as by ISO/TC 224, Service activities relating to drinking water supply systems and wastewater systems - Quality criteria of the service and performance indicators. The standards addressing the examination of water for chemical substances, as well as the standards on microbiological properties of water developed respectively by subcommittees ISO/TC 147/SC 2, Physical, chemical and biochemical methods, and ISO/TC 147/SC 4, Microbiological methods, are also relevant; the new ISO standards that focus on service performance can be of paramount importance, especially to areas where compromised distribution networks constitute health threats. Particularly important are ISO 245 10:2007, Activities i-elating to drinking water and wastewater services-Guidelines for the assessment and for the improvement of the service to users, and ISO 24512:2007, Activities relating to drinking water and wastew ater services - Guidelines for the management of drinking water utilities and for the assessment of drinking water services. To a certain extent, these standards complement the group of standards on different types of piping, fittings and other components, classified under the International Classification for Standards (ICS) as ICS 91.14060 Water supply systems. This includes the work of several technical committees including ISO/TC 30/SC 7, Volume methods including water meters, and ISO/TC 138/SC 2, Plastics pipes and fittings for water supplies, to name a few.
    • Giving Guidance

      The regional work of the Protocol requires inter-comparability of results. ISO/TR 13530:1997, Guide to analytical quality control for water analysis, is particularly important here. And equally significant in a multicultural and multilingual environment are ISO's efforts to avoid linguistic confusion through the development of a standardized terminology for water quality in the ISO 6107 series of standards on water quality vocabulary.

      Environment-related aspects gain increased political recognition. In this context, ISO 14004:2004, Environmental management systems - General guidelines on principles, systems and support techniques and, perhaps even more so, the future ISO 14005, Guidelines for the phased implementation of an environmental management system, including the use of environmental performance evaluation, are likely to gain in importance.

      Small-scale water supplies in rural areas are spread widely in sparsely populated zones. In this type of situation, water quality assessment is often done with test kits. Local water experts may be confused by the variety of commercial literature, and can find solace in ISO 17381:2003, Selection and application of ready-to-use test kit methods in water analysis.

      Future directions

      Standardization is a never-ending task, with new challenges arising continually. For example, parties to the Protocol also created the Task Force on Water and Extreme Weather Events, which is informed of work being carried out within ISO towards the development of an international workshop agreement: IWA 6, Guidelines for the management of drinking water utilities under crisis conditions.

      Notwithstanding high quality and relevance, experience shows that penetration of ISO standards, especially in the eastern part of the European region, is sporadic. A more coherent and consistent approach towards raising awareness of ISO standards and their supportive role to international instruments, such as the Protocol on Water and Health, should be undertaken.

      More effort is also required to make ISO standards available in other languages, particularly Russian, and to facilitate financial access to the standards for countries in challenging socioeconomic conditions.

      Finally, closer cooperation between ISO and international instruments such as the Protocol - for example, through participation in the respective task forces and technical committees - may prove to be mutually beneficial in orienting the use of ISO standards in a coherent and coordinated manner towards supporting both the implementation of water safety plans in individual water services and the achievement of regional goals."

      For more information about Accreditation, Laboratory Accreditation and metrology kindly contact the Antigua and Barbuda Bureau of Standards, Corner Redcliffe Street & Corn Alley, P.O. Box 1550, St. John's, Antigua (W.I.) or Telephone 462-2424 or email: abbs@antigua.gov.ag.

 

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