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UN official sounds warning about worldwide supply of clean water

UN official sounds warning about worldwide supply of clean water

Water will become the dominant global issue this century, and the availability of its supply could threaten the world’s social stability, the head of the United Nations agency tasked with promoting socially and environmentally sustainable housing has warned.

Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the UN Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), told yesterday’s opening of the Stockholm World Water Week that rapid urbanization is placing enormous pressure on the availability of clean water and other natural resources, especially for the poor.

She called for “a fundamental change” in the way the world approaches water and sanitation to ensure that enough clean water remains affordable for all for future generations.

“There is a need to arrive at a consensus on how the soaring water demands of the cities and towns of the world could be met without compromising the needs of the future generations,” she said at a symposium held in the Swedish capital.

UN statistics indicate that, for the first time in history, this year more people live in cities than in rural areas – and that by 2030 the global urban population will reach 60 per cent.

“Homo sapiens are slowly becoming homo urbanus,” Ms. Tibaijuka said, adding later that “urbanization is a reality that we must face and turn to our advantage as cities are the centres of economic and social development.”

She decried what she called “the myth that the poor cannot afford to pay for water. In reality, the urban poor are rarely connected to municipal supplies, and pay exorbitant prices for water to private vendors, from four times to a hundred times more than their affluent neighbours, who get subsidized water piped to their homes.”

Ms. Tibaijuka urged policymakers to work together more closely to ensure that there are realistic pricing policies for water “that will allow its conservation, discourage waste, and ensure that the poor will be able to meet their basic needs at a price they can afford.”

The UN-HABITAT chief said “the current level of investment in water and sanitation in developing countries remains woefully inadequate,” and she recommended that such nations examine new and innovative approaches, including more local community and private sector involvement.

“The private sector can bring significant efficiency gains and the much needed investment funds to the water sector,” she said, noting that one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is a commitment to halve by 2015 the proportion of people who do not have safe access to water and basic sanitation.

The impact of climate change, and its apparent threat of more extreme weather phenomena, further jeopardized the urban poor’s access to safe, drinkable water and reliable sanitation, Ms. Tibaijuka said.