From: Erica Bulman, Associated Press
Published March 22, 2005 12:00 AM

Water, Sanitation Key to Disaster Response, Long-Term Development

GENEVA — The lack of major outbreaks of disease in areas hit by the Dec. 26 tsunami is largely due to the rapid deployment of clean water and sanitation teams, the international Red Cross said Tuesday.


In a statement marking World Water Day, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the response provided a dramatic demonstration of the need for clean water.


But the resource is also essential for longer-term chronic shortages in the developing world, the federation and other international organizations said.


The United Nations says more than 1.1 billion people around the world lack safe water, and 2.4 billion have no access to sanitation, leading to over 3 million deaths every year.


"People who can turn on a tap and have safe and clean water to drink, to cook with and to bathe in often take it for granted, and yet more than 1 billion of our fellow human beings have little choice but to use potentially harmful sources of water," said Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, head of the World Health Organization.


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The Red Cross federation said it had deployed seven emergency response units in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, providing clean water to nearly 500,000 people.


It was its largest deployment of water and sanitation teams since it set up the emergency response system of its national societies 10 years ago, the federation said.


"After a major catastrophe, populations are particularly vulnerable to waterborne diseases, and our ability to produce large quantities of safe water and provide adequate sanitation quickly has been crucial in ensuring that these communities were not subjected to a second disaster," said Markku Niskala, secretary-general of the federation.


This year's World Water Day marks the launching of the "Water for Life" decade, during which the United Nations and governments are seeking to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.


Ministers and government representatives are scheduled to meet next month at the Commission for Sustainable Development's 13th session in New York to take policy decisions on practical measures to ensure access to water for people worldwide.


"We need to increase water efficiency, especially in agriculture. We need to free women and girls from the daily chore of hauling water, often over great distances," U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan said.


The plan also aims to safeguard water for the future of the Earth's ecosystems, crucial for protecting and preserving biodiversity in freshwater lakes and rivers, mountain landscapes, wetlands, estuaries, coastal zones and oceans.


Source: Associated Press


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