Unclean Water Claims More Lives Than War

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Environment News Service

Unclean Water Claims More Lives Than War

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"Day after day, we pour millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural waste into the world's water systems. Clean water has become scarce and will become even scarcer with the onset of climate change," warned United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (photo by Jon Gosier / flickr user jon gos)

NEW YORK - Unsafe water kills
more people than war plus all other forms of violence combined, said
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a message to the world
today, designated as World Water Day.

The 2010 World Water Day theme is Clean Water for a Healthy World, but
every day two million tons of sewage, industrial and agricultural
wastes enter the Earth's waters, while every 20 seconds a child under
the age of five dies from water-related diseases.

The World Health Organization reports that unsafe water, sanitation and
hygiene claim the lives of an estimated 1.5 million children under the
age of five each year.

"These deaths are an affront to our common humanity, and
undermine the efforts of many countries to achieve their development
potential," Secretary-General Ban said today.

"Our growing population's need for water for food, raw materials and
energy is increasingly competing with nature's own demands for water to
sustain already imperiled ecosystems and the services on which we
depend," he said.

"Day after day, we pour millions of tons of untreated sewage
and industrial and agricultural waste into the world's water systems.
Clean water has become scarce and will become even scarcer with the
onset of climate change," warned Ban.

The UN General Assembly designated the first World Water Day in
1993, and on March 22 every year since, the focus has been on a
different aspect of freshwater sustainability, including sanitation and
water scarcity.

The 192-member body today is holding an interactive dialogue on
water and the "Water for Life" International Decade 2005-2015,
featuring three panel discussions on climate change, peace and
security, and the Millenium Development Goals, an agenda for poverty
reduction agreed by world leaders in 2000 that includes clean water and
sanitation.

"Access to clean water and adequate sanitation are a
prerequisite for lifting people out of poverty," UN Deputy
Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said at the event in New York.

Currently, seven out of 10 people without improved sanitation
live in rural areas, but the number of people without adequate
sanitation is set to soar as urban populations grow, she said.

Unclean drinking water leads to the spread of diseases such as
cholera, typhoid and childhood diarrhea, one of the leading causes of
death in children.

A new joint report from the World Health Organization and the UN
Childrens Fund shows that 87 percent of the world's population, about
5.9 billion people, are now using safe drinking water sources, so the
world is on track to meet or even exceed the drinking water target of
the Millennium Development Goals.

But with almost 39 percent of the world's population, or over
2.6 billion people, living without improved sanitation facilities, the
report estimates that the international community will miss the
sanitation Millenium Development Goal by almost one billion people by
2015 - the date when the goals are intended to be accomplished.

"The good news is that open defecation, the riskiest sanitation
practice of all, is on the decline worldwide, with a global decrease
from 25 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2008, representing a decrease
of 168 million people practicing open defecation since 1990," the
WHO/UNICEF report finds.

However, this practice is still widely spread in Southern Asia,
where an estimated 44 percent of the population defecate in the open.

"We all recognize the vital importance of water and sanitation
to human health and well-being and their role as an engine of
development," said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO's director for the Department
of Public Health and Environment. "The question now lies in how to
accelerate progress towards achieving the Millenium Development Goal
targets and most importantly how to leap a step further to ultimately
achieve the vision of universal access."

Lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene affects the
health, security, livelihood and quality of life for children,
impacting women and girls first and most. They are much more likely
than men and boys to be the ones burdened with collecting
drinking-water.

"With almost 884 million people living without access to safe
drinking-water and approximately three times that number lacking basic
sanitation we must act now as one global community to ensure water and
sanitation for all," said Clarissa Brocklehurst, UNICEF chief of Water,
Sanitation and Hygiene.

When the UN General Assembly opens a new session in September
the UN will host a high-level thematic debate on water and sanitation.
Secretary-General Ban has called on member states to approve and
incorporate an accelerated action plan during the summit, saying an
inability to meet the MDGs would be an "unacceptable failure, moral and
practical."

In a new report, "Clearing the Waters: A focus on Water Quality
Solutions," UNEP shows that an investment of $20 million in low-cost
water technologies, such as drip irrigation and treadle pumps, could
potentially lift 100 million poor farming families out of extreme
poverty.

In some poorer nations, more than half of treated water is lost
to leaks, but saving just half of the water by repairing leaky water
and sewage networks could benefit 90 million people without additional
investment, the report shows.

In another report also launched today, UNEP shows that that
many substances that make wastewater a pollutant, such as nitrogen and
phosphorus, can be used as fertilizers for agriculture and can generate
gases to fuel power stations and for cooking.

"Human activity over the past 50 years is responsible for
unprecedented pollution, and the quality of the world's water resources
is increasingly challenged," said UNEP Executive Director Achim
Steiner.

"It may seem like an overwhelming challenge," Steiner said,
"but there are enough solutions where human ingenuity allied to
technology and investments in nature's purification systems, such as
wetlands, forests and mangroves, can deliver clean water for a healthy
world."

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