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Installing toilets and ensuring safe water supplies where needed throughout the world would do more to end poverty and improve world health than any other possible measure, according to a new UN study.

"Water problems, caused largely by an appalling absence of adequate toilets in many places, contribute tremendously to some of the world's most punishing problems, foremost among them the inter-related afflictions of poor health and chronic poverty," said Zafar Adeel, director of the UN University's Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment and Health, which released the study on Sunday.

Almost 900 million people around the world lack access to safe water supplies, and 2.5 billion people live without access to improved sanitation, according to UN figures.

Diseases due to poor water, sanitation and hygiene account for an estimated 10 percent of the total global burden of illness, and the total number of deaths attributed to poor water, sanitation and hygiene was over 3.5 million in 2002.

Simply improving domestic water supply, sanitation and hand washing with soap can reduce illness rates by more than 25 percent, researchers said.

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