'Billions without clean water'

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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 22:33 GMT 'Billions without clean water'

Water everywhere but very little is safe to drink

Half the world's population is living in unsanitary conditions without access to clean water, according to a UN-backed report.

The report, drawn up by the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century, says three billion of the world's most deprived people live in squalor and misery without access to proper sanitation.

One billion of them have no access to safe water at all.

But the report says this does not have to be the case.

The equivalent of 12 Jumbo jets of children die everyday from sanitation-related diseases UN water expert Brian Appleton The commission says that everyone could have clean drinking water and improved sanitation facilities within 25 years if governments made water provision a priority.

It says access to water should be seen as a basic human right as well as a key factor in the fight against diseases such as typhoid and cholera.

Radical rethink needed

UN water expert Brian Appleton says 5,000 children die needlessly every day from waterborne illnesses:

"That's equivalent to 12 full Jumbo jets crashing every day" he says.

Report recommends More than doubling annual investment in water supply to $180bn, with focus on sustainable use of water Letting private sector take the lead in providing water supplies Scrapping water subsidies that encourage waste Setting up Water Innovation Fund to foster smart ideas for water technology. "If 12 full Jumbo jets were crashing every day, the world would want to do something about it - they would want to find out why it was happening."

The UN is calling on governments to concentrate on community-based initiatives, which it says are more cost-effective and efficient than hi-tech centralised water-supply policies.

Such projects in India, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Tanzania have dramatically improved people's living conditions and health levels, it argues.

'Time running out'

But, the UN warns, time is running out.

Efforts to improve global hygiene are not keeping pace with the population explosion.

If governments do not radically rethink their policies, the UN says, the world's water crisis will get worse.

The World Commission on Water for the 21st Century is sponsored by a number of UN agencies, and is chaired by Ismail Serageldin, vice-president of the World Bank.

The report is to be presented at the second world water forum in the Netherlands, starting on 17 March.


Related story at


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 13, 2000


More from the BBC.

Monday, 13 March, 2000, 22:02 GMT Water arithmetic 'doesn't add up'

By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The report drawn up by the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century says "the arithmetic of water simply does not add up".

It says that within 20 years, the world is likely to need much more water to grow the food it needs than it will be able to find.

Only 2.5% of the world's water is not salty, and two-thirds of that is trapped in the icecaps and glaciers.

Of what is left, about 20% is in remote areas and most of the rest comes at the wrong time and in the wrong place, as with monsoons and floods.

The water is often in the wrong place The amount of fresh water available for human use is less than 0.08% of all the water on the planet.

About 70% of the fresh water is already used for agriculture, and the report says the demands of industry and energy will grow rapidly.

The World Water Council report estimates that in the next two decades the use of water by humans will increase by about 40%, and that 17% more water than is available will be needed to grow the world's food.

Fundamental change

As well, it says, "aquatic ecosystems throughout the world have been degraded and will need greater protection, and water quality is deteriorating in poor countries".

The commission concludes that "only rapid and imaginative institutional and technological innovation can avoid the crisis".

The commission recommends the establishment of a water innovation fund, because of the need to change the way we manage water.

Water users should have a say in management The commission says global investment in water needs to go up from the present $70bn - $80bn annually, to $180bn, with almost all the increase coming from the private sector, not governments.

But governments "remain the key actors in the solution, by what they do or do not do, and how they choose to do it".

The report stresses the need to give the people who use the water the final say over how it is used.

The commission calls for "users' parliaments", where users would have a major role with their national government in managing aquifers and river basins.

Respecting geography

Ismail Serageldin said: "Experience shows that this participation must be real and not symbolic, and shows that these users' associations and parliaments must have a decisive role in deciding what is done, how it is done, and who pays for it."

The commission also wants the private sector allowed to take over most financing and service provisions, and calls for water to be managed "holistically", at the level of river basins rather than of political or administrative boundaries.

The price of water should cover its full cost, to promote conservation. But the report says that must go hand in hand with a commitment to provide targetted subsidies for poor people.

The report, to be presented at the second world water forum in the Netherlands, starting on 17 March, says the present water crisis will worsen and affect millions more people if nothing is done


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 13, 2000.

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