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Access to Water Must be High on Climate Agenda: Group

Svetlana Kovalyova

A girl collects drinking water from a stream in Glen Norah, Harare November 27, 2008. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

MILAN (Reuters) - Access to water is a basic human right and should be high on the agenda of climate change talks in Poland next week, the head of an Italian advocacy group said on Friday.

With more than 1 billion people having no access to safe water, the World Water Contract group for years has sought to make availability of water a basic right and add it to the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Given that water is threatened by climate change, it is time to include the human right to water in (the new climate) protocol," Emilio Molinari, chairman of the group's Italian branch, told Reuters on the margins of a water conference.

Molinari said his group would lobby the United Nations to add water access rights to the climate change debate next week in Poznan, Poland.

About 190 countries will meet there to lay the groundwork for a global deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol after 2012.

Molinari said his non-profit organization would try to ensure guarantee rights to water access are included in the final climate deal, widely expected in December 2009.

"One of our strategic objectives is to insert the right to water in the climate change protocol as a fundamental element," he said.

The battle for access to water has never been easy and would become more difficult with the global credit crunch, because the lion's share of public funds would be channeled to rescue banks and big corporations, he said.

"They (authorities) will play a recession card. They will say: 'There is no money for public interventions, all should go to help companies to recover... We need to scrap environmental target'," he said.

Previous efforts by human rights and environmental activists to improve water access largely have run aground due to lack of public funds and the resistance of multinational water companies which want to control water resources, he said.

Molinari said about $10 billion a year is needed to meet the U.N. Millennium Goal Campaign's target of halving the proportion of people with no access to safe drinking water by 2015, but only about five percent of required funds has been raised.

Editing by Michael Roddy


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