The concept of safe water is defined by three principles: the health-related quality must be suitable, the supply/source must be accessible and the water must constantly be available in quantities sufficient for the intended use. If any one (or more) of these three elements is missing from a water services improvement programme, providing safe water is not successfully achieved. A study in a deep rural area in South Africa showed that providing small communities, using untreated river water as their only water source, with good quality water through a piped distribution system and accessible at communal taps did not fall within our parameters of safe water. The parameters for measuring the three principles were: absence of Escherichia coli in drinking water samples; accessibility by improving tap distances to within 200 m from each household; availability by assessing whether households have at least 25 L per person per day. Results show that although E. coli levels were reduced significantly, households were still consuming water with E. coli numbers at non-compliant levels. Access (distance) was improved from an average of 750 m from households to river source to an average of 120 m to new on-tap source points. This did not result in significant increases in household quantities, which on average remained around 18 L per person per day.

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