With water-related diseases killing a child every eight seconds and 2.4 billion people lacking adequate sanitation, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed today for innovative ideas and redoubled financing to help “2 billion of our fellow human beings, who are dying for want of water and sanitation.”
“What is needed, along with fresh water, is fresh thinking. We need to learn how to value water,” Mr. Annan said in a message marking World Environment Day, which this year highlights the centrality of water to human survival and sustainable development under the theme “Water: Two Billion People Are Dying for It!”
He stressed that water-related diseases are responsible for 80 per cent of illnesses and deaths in the developing world – “a situation made all the more tragic by our long-standing knowledge that these diseases are easily preventable.”
Gains achieved through increased provision of water services in the developing world during the past 20 years have largely been cancelled out by population growth and many parts of the world now face the spectre of water scarcity because of climate change, pollution and over-consumption, Mr. Annan noted.
“Our challenge,” he declared, “is to provide water services to all, especially the poor; to maximize water productivity, especially in agriculture, which accounts for the lion’s share of global water use yet is often inefficient in many of its routine water-using practices; and to ensure that rivers and groundwater aquifers that are shared between two or more countries are equitably and harmoniously managed.”
Fresh thinking might mean making users pay a realistic price for water, though it must never mean depriving already marginalized people, he said, adding: “It is one of the crueller ironies of today’s world water situation that those with the lowest income generally pay the most for their water.”
It also means finding practical solutions to ensure the reliable and equitable supply of water through, for instance, the simple and cheap process of rainwater harvesting, which could help up to 2 billion people in Asia alone. End-of-pipe water purification and public health education about basic hygiene practices would also go a long way towards alleviating the global disease burden caused by dirty water, he said.
But, he cautioned, “Providing adequate sanitation and sustainable freshwater supplies will also require significant new investment in infrastructure and technology. To meet the agreed targets, it is estimated that annual spending on safe drinking water and sanitation will have to more than double.”