To help counteract these alarming statistics, ISO’s portfolio of more than 18 000 International Standards includes globally harmonized solutions addressing the challenges highlighted by the United Nations (UN) World Water Day (WWD), whose 2010 theme is, “Clean water for a healthy world”.

This year's event draws attention to the fact that the quality of life directly depends on water quality. Safe drinking water and sanitation are also central to alleviating poverty. However, every day, 2 million tons of sewage and other effluents drain into the world’s waters. In developing countries, 90 % of raw sewage and 79 % of untreated industrial waste are dumped into surface waters.

The goals of safe water and improved sanitation are ingrained in the UN Millennium Development Goals. ISO is contributing through the development of standards for both drinking water and wastewater services and for water quality, developed respectively by ISO technical committees ISO/TC 224 and ISO/TC 147 (see below).

“The good news is that according to the UN, we are on track to meeting the Millenium Development Goal for drinking water,” says ISO Secretary-General Rob Steele. “The introduction of regulation and the implementation of International Standards has significantly contributed to these efforts.

“However, the UN warns that if current trends continue, the global community will miss its 2015 sanitation target by almost one billion people. Human health and environmental sustainability are at stake if no action is taken. ISO standards provide tools to help manage the world’s water resources, which are a shared heritage, equitably and durably."

ISO comprehensive toolbox of solutions is built on common understanding and cooperation between countries from all regions of the world. It includes standards for assessing water quality and measurements, as well as for managing drinking water and wastewater services, including ensuring water delivery during crisis conditions. Other standards address groundwater resources, “green” irrigation, water for industrial uses and more.  

The ISO technical committees (ISO/TC) principally concerned are:

  • ISO/TC 147, Water quality
  • ISO/TC 224, Service activities relating to drinking water supply systems and wastewater systems – Quality criteria of the service and performance indicators
  • ISO/TC 113, Hydrometry.

ISO/TC 147 develops standards for water quality, including definition of terms, water sampling, measurement and reporting of water characteristics. Since the creation of ISO/TC 147 in 1971, it has developed 246 standards. Today, 35 countries participate in its work, while another 51 have observer status.

ISO/TC 224 has developed three standards for the assessment, improvement and management of service activities relating to drinking water supply systems and wastewater systems. Established in 2001, 33 countries participate in its work and another 17 are observers.

ISO/TC 113 develops standards for hydrometry (water measurement), key for water management and conservation. This technical committee, created in 1964, has developed 75 standards. Fifteen countries participate in its work and 21 are observers.

ISO has also published an International Workshop Agreement addressing water security, IWA 6:2008, Guidelines for the management of drinking water utilities under crisis conditions.

Some other examples of ISO’s work on water-related areas include irrigation (ISO/TC 23/SC 18 – 30 standards) and plastics piping systems (ISO/TC 138/SC 2 – 68 standards).

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is coordinating the WWD 2010 campaign on behalf of UN-Water. Organized annually on 22 March, WWD is a UN initiative designed to draw global attention to the importance of freshwater and the need for sustainable management of water resources. UNEP has liaison status with seven ISO standards-development groups, including ISO/TC 147.