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World Water Day, 22 March 2002

Nairobi, 21 March 2002 - The Millennium Declaration, adopted by Head of States, set the world the following goals:

- To halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world's people whose income is less than one dollar a day, and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

- and, by the same date, to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water.

In the light of this commitment, the theme of World Water Day in 2002, "Water for Development", is particularly appropriate.

Without adequate clean water, there can be no escape from poverty. Water is the basis for good health and food production.

This year, water pollution, poor sanitation and water shortages will kill over 12 million people. Millions more are in bad health and trapped in poverty, much of their energy and time wasted in the quest for clean water.

75% of water is used for agriculture. Crop failure due to lack of water, or too much water, can mean starvation for many.

Mankind is always at the mercy of water for survival and development. Water's almost sacred status, is recognized the world over. The Koran mentions that all life originated from water, and that man himself is created of water. Water's power to destroy is well-known. In the Bible floods and drought were punishments sent from God. In Judaism water is important for ritual purification. The Incas believed that Lake Titicaca was the centre of the original world, water was the essential factor in the stability and prosperity of the Mayan peoples. The "sacred waters" of the Hindus, erase caste distinctions. We too, should use water to restore equity

Water is vital to economic development. We must recognize the true dimension of the challenge we face. The challenge of ensuring sustainable water demand and use and supply of water to all. Appropriate action is required to meet this challenge.

There is a need for investment in water services, and water conservation. Water resources must be developed, and managed efficiently. Where appropriate, high-tech solutions for water conservation and recycling, such as those developed by UNEP's IETC should be implemented. Awareness at every level must be increased. If there is awareness, least-cost (often simple) solutions for sustainable water conservation, such as roof rainwater collection, recycling and reuse, can also be put into practice.

Due attention should to be given to the problem of transboundary waters. The development of legal frameworks for the equitable sharing of water resources, is key is peace and stability, without which there can be no development.

Water-pricing needs to be revised to reflect the true cost of the resource, taking account of the economic, social, and environmental value of water. Such a policy will encourage more efficient use, and discourage waste. Pricing policy should of course take account of the limited finances of the poor. At present the poorest pay most for clean water, both in monetary terms, and in terms of the burden to their health. The problem is particularly acute in urban areas. Working with Habitat, through the project "Water for African Cities", UNEP is acting to tackle the urban water crisis in African Cities. Water should be made available and affordable for all.

This year let us use World Water Day to open the eyes of the world to the lack of water for development, and the reasons behind this problem. The Day should mark the beginning of a new era of co-operation between the rich and the poor, in an attempt to provide clean water to those who have none, or very little.

We should make every effort to give a new perspective to the millions of women trudging great distances to fetch water. We have to give new hope to the children suffering, and dying, from water related diseases.

Let us make World Water Day more than a date in the calendar. Let this be the start of action to meet the goals of the Millennium Declaration. Action, which we can reinforce, later this year, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg.

IF we agreed with the words of Mahbub al Haq :

" Sustainable development is a question of quality of life for the rich countries but it is a question of life for the poor countries".

I believe we have no choice but to act together responsibly to ensure water for all, for a better future.

For more information please contact: Tore J Brevik, UNEP Spokesman/Director of the Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 623292, e-mail: tore.brevik@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

UNEP Information Note 2002/6

1) Founder of the Human Development Report, Former Minister of Finance and Planning for Pakistan