From: Foster Klug, Associated Press
Published September 15, 2005 12:00 AM

U.N. Urges World Leaders To Get Clean Water to the Billions Suffering Without

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. officials said Wednesday that many of the problems world leaders are working to tackle at this week's U.N. summit can be solved by providing clean water and basic sanitation for the billions suffering without such services.


The officials urged leaders to focus on reaching the U.N. goal of halving the number of people living without water and sanitation by 2015, and to make sure an additional US$11 billion (euro9 billion) of annual aid gets to the people, relief agencies and governments who need it most.


"We're talking about practical ways to save lives, millions of lives every year lost to diseases and malnutrition that go hand-in-hand with unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation," said Vanessa Tobin, chief of UNICEF's water and sanitation section. "If we cannot provide for women and children suffering without ... a safe water source or a basic latrine, what hope do we have of reaching them with anti-retroviral drugs, malaria bed nets, vaccines or any of the other tools to save lives and reduce poverty?"


Her comments were meant for the more than 150 world leaders who have gathered in New York to mark the United Nation's 60th anniversary and to tackle the major global issues of the 21st century, including terrorism, human rights abuses and poverty.


Some of those problems can be solved, she said, by directing U.N. and international resources to programs and agencies working to improve water and sanitation infrastructure. As it is, more than 1 billion people live without clean water, and 2.6 billion have no sanitation, according to a 2005 U.N. report.


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Women and girls in poor countries, some of whom must walk more than an hour to fetch clean water, are most in danger. Girls often avoid school and social activities because they are embarrassed about having to relieve themselves outdoors, said Hilde Johnson, Norway's minister for international development.


Looking for clean water is also exhausting and dangerous: In poor countries, Johnson said, women walking to distant water sources are often raped.


Sub-Saharan Africa is in particularly bad shape.


Nearly 2,000 African women and children die each day from diseases caused by lack of sanitation and clean water, Tobin said. Only 58 percent of Africans live within a 30-minute walk of clean water; only 36 percent have a toilet.


To fight the problem, Tobin said, the United Nations operates projects in about 90 countries.


Workers are building inexpensive wells. Rainwater harvesting systems, which were first introduced in India and Bangladesh, are now used in Africa, and gravity-flow water supply systems are also in operation.


In U.N. projects, local mechanics are also being trained on how to maintain existing systems, which are often neglected. In Africa, 30 percent of water supply systems aren't working while about 20 percent aren't working in Asia, Tobin said.


Johnson said leaders can't ignore the "forgotten issues" of dirty water and bad sanitation that plague poor countries, but often don't make headlines in the developed world.


"Imagine people marching in the streets and saying, 'We want toilets,'" Johnson said. "It very, very much concerns women more than anyone else, and their priorities are often left behind. ... We really need to be advocates and put this up much, much higher up on the agenda."


Source: Associated Press


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