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Access to sufficient quantities of safe drinking water is a human right. Moreover, access to clean water is of public health relevance, particularly in semi-arid and Sahelian cities due to the risks of water contamination and transmission of water-borne diseases. We conducted a study in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, to deepen the understanding of diarrhoeal incidence in space and time. We used an integrated geographical approach, combining socio-environmental, microbiological and epidemiological data from various sources, including spatially explicit surveys, laboratory analysis of water samples and reported diarrhoeal episodes. A geospatial technique was applied to determine the environmental and microbiological risk factors that govern diarrhoeal transmission. Statistical and cartographic analyses revealed concentration of unimproved sources of drinking water in the most densely populated areas of the city, coupled with a daily water allocation below the recommended standard of 20 l per person. Bacteriological analysis indicated that 93% of the non-piped water sources supplied at water points were contaminated with 10-80 coliform bacteria per 100 ml. Diarrhoea was the second most important disease reported at health centres, accounting for 12.8% of health care service consultations on average. Diarrhoeal episodes were concentrated in municipalities with the largest number of contaminated water sources. Environmental factors (e.g. lack of improved water sources) and bacteriological aspects (e.g. water contamination with coliform bacteria) are the main drivers explaining the spatio-temporal distribution of diarrhoea. We conclude that integrating environmental, microbiological and epidemiological variables with statistical regression models facilitates risk profiling of diarrhoeal diseases. Modes of water supply and water contamination were the main drivers of diarrhoea in this semi-arid urban context of Nouakchott, and hence require a strategy to improve water quality at the various levels of the supply chain.
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