World Water Day, 22 MARCH 2000

NAIROBI, 22 March 2000 -

"The battle for the conservation of water will be won or lost in the mega-cities of the world.

"In 1900, only one in ten people lived in cities but today half of humanity, well over 3 billion people, now lives in urban areas. Already, 23 cities - 18 of them in the developing world - have populations exceeding 10 million. The result is that during the last century, the combined municipal and industrial use of water worldwide grew 24 times while agricultural use of water increased only 5 times.

"Only one per cent of the world's water resources provides the fresh water necessary for agriculture, industry and human consumption. To meet the present urban demand for water, more than half of EuropeĆ¾s cities are already over-exploiting groundwater reserves and many countries report groundwater pollution. Mexico City has sunk more than 10 metres over the past 70 years because of excessive withdrawal of water from ground water sources. Bangkok is facing the problem of intrusion of saltwater into aquifers. The city of Johannesburg draws water from over 600 kilometres away from the Lesotho highlands. Despite these efforts, it is estimated that currently over 20 per cent of the world's population faces water shortages. Furthermore, the constant search for freshwater for cities is a potential source of international conflict and water wars.

"It is estimated that over a billion people live without adequate shelter and access to basic services such as clean running water. What is worse, is that in many countries, the poor pay exorbitant prices to private vendors for clean water. Paradoxically enough, as the poor struggle for water, in many cities up to half of the water supply is lost through leakages and illegal connections. Such inefficiency and inequitable mechanisms for the delivery of water can only lead to further social conflict within cities. With the population of cities expected to increase to 5 billion by the year 2025, the urban demand for water is all set to increase exponentially. This means that any solution to the water crisis is closely linked to the governance of our cities.

"Clearly, better urban governance is the key to the conservation of water. I call upon cities and city authorities to adopt a six point integrated strategy for managing urban water resources. The first step is for local authorities to carry out city wide water audits. Second, policies need to be introduced to stop the pollution of water sources and to protect watersheds. Third, local authorities must use new technologies to minimize the amount of water lost through leakages and illegal connections. Fourth, socially sensitive pricing policies should be introduced which neither protect nor penalise the poor but remove any opportunity for profligate use. Fifth, city authorities must involve industrialists and community groups to design innovative ways of recycling wastewater. Finally, each city needs to set up an integrated strategy for demand management. This includes launching city wide campaigns to change people's attitudes towards freshwater conservation.

"With over 60 million people being added to the population of cities each year, the challenge is for policy makers, planners and ordinary citizens everywhere to play their part in implementing the World Water Vision."

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For more information please contact: Tore J. Brevik, UNEP Spokesman and Director of CPI; tel: 254-2-623292; fax: 623927; Email cpiinfo@unep.org; Website: www.unep.org

Sharad Shankardass, Press & Media Unit, Unchs (Habitat), tel: 254-2-623153; Fax: 624060; Email: habitat.press@unchs.org; Website: www.unchs.org

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