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Untreated sewage threatens world's seas, coastal populations, UN agency says

Untreated sewage threatens world's seas, coastal populations, UN agency says

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today called for governments to back wastewater emission targets as a key step towards cleaning up the world's seas and reducing the number of people at risk of disease because they lack access to basic sanitation services.

"Lack of adequate sanitation has been emerging as one of the biggest threats to human health. It is estimated that the global economic burden due to ill-health, disease and death related to pollution of coastal waters is running at $16 billion a year," UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said.

One way of dealing with the problem is to "set realistic but ambitious wastewater emission targets," Mr. Toepfer said, stressing that the targets should be "linked to a timetable when the targets should be met."

Doing this, the UNEP chief said, would "allow us to tackle this scourge once and for all so that the current and future generations can have access to safe healthy, drinking water and enjoy coastal areas free from contaminated bathing waters and polluted natural resources."

According to a new report published today by UNEP, almost 40 per cent of the world's population lives in coastal areas less than 60 kilometres from the shore, most of which are being threatened by untreated sewage discharges.

The report was complied in response to a target agreed to the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, to halve the number of people without access to basic sanitation services by 2015.

The most vulnerable populations are living in the South Asian Seas region, where 800 million people live without any access to basic sanitation services, putting them at high risk from sewage-related disease and death, according to the report. The next most at risk region is East Asia, where 515 million people, or some 25 per cent of the world's "un-served population," live.

The report also noted that rising populations are overwhelming whatever improvements are made to the sanitation systems of the developing world. In the South Asian Seas region, for instance, 220 million people benefited from improved access to sanitation between 1990 and 2000. But during the decade, the population grew by 222 million people, offsetting that advantage and leaving 825 million people still without access to acceptable sanitation.