Human health needs knowledge about water and the subsurface

The environment and our health are intimately linked, both directly and indirectly. The work of Deltares has impacts on human health as interventions in the environment may bring benefits for health and well-being, but could also increase health risks. Climate change is aggravating this: adaptations bring more surface water bodies, while higher temperatures make freshwater and coastal areas more attractive to swimmers but also to pathogens. At Deltares, we combine our integrated knowledge about water and the subsurface with human health to make the environment healthier.

An example of  major changes in the environment that put our health under more and more pressure is the increased frequence of floods and droughts. Cities will come to house two thirds of the global population as it increases to 9 billion people in the run-up to 2050, creating potential shortages of clean water and food. As a result, our living environment will be exposed to extreme pressures.

Dhaka waterfront at Buriganga River (Old Ganges).
Photograph Mariusz Kluzniak

This urban-climate cocktail increases pollution and also creates a fertile breeding ground for pathogens and their carriers, exposing people to harmful substances as well as to infectious diseases. The knock-on effect is an increase in the use and excretion of antibiotics, and spread of antibiotic resistance in the environment.

Fortunately, there are solutions available to maintain or improve the health of water systems. In that way, we can reduce the risks of pollution and pathogens for human health.

The solutions arising from linking integrated knowledge about water and the subsurface to human health allow those responsible for the planning, design and use of water systems to explicitly take the impact on human health into account. In that way, government authorities, businesses and the public can take action that is also good for health.

Our research on Water & Health is thus to investigate whether health can be improved by forecasting the risks and spread of diseases through water systems, and how we can reduce health risks through water management in urban, rural and marine ecosystems. Our three priority questions are:

  1. How to predict effects of environmental change on vector-borne diseases?
  2. What are the future health risks under extreme weather and can we develop early warning for waterborne pathogens?
  3. What is the health burden of water management?