Leaders preparing for the World Water Forum in 2009 pleaded on Tuesday for rich nations to make universal access to clean water a top priority, calling it one of the world's most pressing challenges.
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Leaders preparing for the World Water Forum in 2009 pleaded on Tuesday for rich nations to make universal access to clean water a top priority, calling it one of the world's most pressing challenges.
"The lack of water or its poor quality causes 10 times more deaths than all the wars waged on this planet together," said Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council, speaking at the forum's initial preparatory meeting in Istanbul.
Fauchon called for development of policies that relied on "man's genius and his capability to invent new solutions," saying it had become a moral imperative to place water at the center of the public and political debate.
Fauchon suggested that the solutions would be found in technological development, such as processes that might be able to tap water buried deep in the earth, separate water from salt, and transport fresh water over great distances.
The conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature issued a report on Tuesday warning that manmade effects on the environment could destroy some of the world's most important rivers in coming decades, causing severe water shortages and the rapid extinction of fish and other species. It called on governments to step up efforts to preserve rivers, lakes and wetlands that provide millions of people with drinking water, sanitation and sustenance.
Fauchon warned that the necessary actions would not be without cost.
"We will have to pay more to access water, more for its distribution, its treatment and sanitation," he said. "We must be able to say that, explain it and provide the right justifications."
Hilmi Guler, Turkey's minister of energy and water issues, said the forum, which was devised to be the world's pre-eminent think-tank on water issues, would be an opportunity for countries to discuss common problems and work toward common and equitable solutions.
"As you know the world has a common agenda now," he said. "This agenda is water and global warming. We have to work together."
Guler said he expected 20,000 participants at the 2009 meeting, a number that would match the last forum held in Mexico City in 2006. The forum is held every three years.
Turkey, which is bordered by three seas, is a country of crucial strategic significance for water issues.
Iraq and Syria have often accused it of holding back too much water in dams on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, an allegation Turkey denies.
Tuesday's agenda-setting meeting coincided with the opening of a massive water pipeline project, called the "Melen Drinking Water Project," to transport fresh water from Anatolian Turkey in a tunnel underneath the Bosporus waterway and into European Istanbul. Mayor Kadir Topbas said the project was "insurance for Istanbul's future."
More and more water is needed to meet the needs of rising populations in towns and cities near rivers, and global warming is expected to have a significant impact on fisheries in places such as Africa, where even small changes in temperature can dramatically alter water levels and fish productivity.
The World Water Council says 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water, and 2.6 billion more do not have basic sanitation. Every minute, 15 people die due to water-related diseases, it says.
Source: Associated Press