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World Water Day 2010 Highlights Solutions and Calls for Action to Improve Water Quality Worldwide

Nairobi (Kenya), 22 March 2010 - Investment in safe water will have high returns in ensuring a healthy ecosystem and human society, says a new report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during the global World Water Day celebrations in Nairobi.

An investment of US$20 million in low-cost water technologies, such as drip irrigation and treadle pumps, could lift 100 million poor farming families out of extreme poverty, according to the report, Clearing the Waters: A Focus on Water Quality Solutions'.

It adds that repairing leaky water and sewage networks can also secure not only supplies but reduce pollution and generate employment. In some developing countries, 50-60 per cent of treated water is lost to leaks and globally an average of 35 per cent is lost. By some estimates, saving just half of this amount would supply water to 90 million people without further investment.

But while there are solutions, much more needs to be done, notes the UNEP report. The facts are:

  • Globally, 2 million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are poured into the world's waters every day;

  • At least 1.8 million children under five years-old die every year from water-related diseases, or one every 20 seconds;

  • Every day, millions of tons of inadequately treated sewage and industrial agricultural wastes are poured into the world's waters;

  • More people die as a result of polluted water than are killed by all forms of violence, including wars;

  • Over half of the world's hospital beds are occupied with people suffering from illnesses linked with contaminated water.

Adeel Zafar, Chair of UN-Water said: "Water quality impacts the lives of millions of people worldwide every year - a majority of them under the age of 5. We are happy that this year's World Water Day puts great emphasis on this delicate issue which is so much reflected in the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs stress clearly the importance of safe water and sanitation. UN-Water, as the coordination mechanism the United Nations community, puts great emphasis to support worldwide efforts for improving water quality and restoring degraded water ecosystems."

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP, said: "Human activity over the past 50 years is responsible for unprecedented pollution, and the quality of the world's water resources is increasingly challenged. World Water Day highlights how the work of improving and sustaining the world's water quality is everyone's responsibility. It may seem like an overwhelming challenge but there are enough solutions where human ingenuity allied to technology and investments in nature's purification systems such as wetlands, forests and mangroves can deliver clean water for a healthy world."

The Chair of the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, His Royal Highness Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands said in his key note speech that "Each year, World Water Day gains more momentum and spurs thousands of local initiatives around the world - in schools, in churches, in communities. Its emphasis on local action is what gives World Water its power and beauty. We know that no single global instrument can ensure our most important common good is saved. Water must be protected locally."

Under the theme 'Clean Water for a Healthy World', World Water Day 2010 will see a series of initiatives organized around the globe to raise awareness and emphasize the key importance of good water quality in improving human well-being.

The global event aims to bring attention to the state of water quality around the world, and is a call for action on pollution prevention, clean-up, and restoration of waterways in order to sustain healthy ecosystems and human well-being.

At the three-day flagship event in Nairobi on World Water from 20 to 22 March, policy makers, scientists and eminent personalities will discuss how to address the challenges of degrading water quality around the world, release new research and visit sites in Kenya to understand the critical importance of water quality for ecosystem functioning, human well-being and livelihoods.

Central to World Water Day 2010 is the launch of the UN-Water Statement, a consensus document of 26 UN agencies and other partners, scientists, and practitioners, pointing out the state of the world's water and defining the will and the way forward. In the morning a panel of international scientists will present and release a scientific communiqué on global water quality and a high-level panel will convene in the afternoon to respond to the UN-Water Statement on Water Quality as part of the World Water Day proceedings in Nairobi.

The outcomes of the event will be presented into key global political processes and meetings such as the UN General Assembly; the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD); the Convention on Biological Diversity; and Stockholm World Water Week.

More specifically, UNEP's report 'Clearing the Waters' report also feeds into the discussion by detailing how water quality is as important as water quantity for satisfying human and environmental needs, yet has received far less investment, scientific support, and public attention.

Prepared in collaboration with the Pacific Institute, one of the world's leading non-profit research organizations on freshwater issues, the UNEP report is part of the World Water Day 2010 effort to bring global attention to the need for clean, safe water - and action and policy to address water pollution.

The report calls for worldwide action to:

  • Increase awareness to change individual behavior around what we put into our water;

  • Promote policies that improve water quality with education and advocacy;

  • Increase enforcement of the regulations put in place to protect water quality;

  • Put investor and consumer pressure on corporations that pollute waterways.

'Clearing the Waters' emphasizes the urgent need to act to improve and safeguard water quality:

  • Human health, the planet's ecosystems, our livelihoods, and our future all depend on clean, safe water - yet every year, the world's lakes, rivers, and deltas take in the equivalent of the entire human population - the weight of 6.8 billion people - in the form of pollution.

  • In the last three decades of the 20th century, populations of freshwater species fell 50 per cent on average, a rate two-thirds greater than that of terrestrial and marine species. In recent years, the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems has been degraded more than any other ecosystem, including tropical rainforests.

  • One of the most significant sources of water pollution is lack of adequate sanitation. Worldwide, the World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that 2.6 billion people - 280 million of them children under five - live without improved sanitation, and each year more than 1.5 million children die from diarrhea caused by infectious waterborne diseases. It is a crisis of local challenges with global repercussions.

  • Worldwide, it is estimated that industry is responsible for dumping 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other waste into waters each year. New contaminants, such as discarded pharmaceuticals, also threaten water quality and human and ecosystem health.

  • The planet's most widespread water-quality problem is nutrient enrichment. Largely caused by nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff and human and industrial waste, nutrient enrichment results in excessive plant (principally algae) growth and decay that robs the water of oxygen needed for many aquatic organisms to survive.

The report notes that it is almost always cheaper to prevent pollution than clean it up - and poor water quality has significant economic costs, from ecosystem and human-health costs and impacts on economic activities to increased water treatment costs and reduced property values.

For example, economic losses as a result of health impacts from the lack of water and sanitation in Africa are estimated at US$28.4 billion, or about 5 percent of GDP. And sanitation and drinking water investments have high rates of return: for every US$ 1 invested, there is a projected US$3-US$34 economic development return.

Freshwater ecosystems sustain a large number of identified species, including a quarter of known vertebrates. Such systems provide more than US$75 billion in goods and ecosystem services for people, but are increasingly threatened by a host of water quality problems.

Also on World Water Day, UNEP and UN-Habitat launched the report 'Sick Water - The Central Role of Wastewater Management in Sustainable Development', which shows that an estimated 90 percent of all wastewater in developing countries is currently discharged untreated directly into rivers, lakes or the oceans. Currently, an estimated 245,000 kilometers of marine ecosystems are affected with a clear impact on fisheries, livelihoods and the overall food chain.

World Water Day supports the United Nations' declaration of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity, working to reduce the constant loss of biological diversity worldwide. UNEP is the coordinating agency for World Water Day 2010 on behalf of UN-Water, collaborating with 26 members from the UN System and external partners representing various organizations and civil society.

Notes to Editors:

About World Water Day:

The UN General Assembly designated the first World Water Day in 1993, and each subsequent year the March 22 event has highlighted a specific aspect of freshwater sustainability. Over the years, World Water Days have focused on transboundary waters, sanitation, coping with water scarcity, and water and culture. The annual World Water Day is coordinated by UN-Water, a coordination mechanism of 26 UN agencies working on water. UNEP with its strong environmental focus was designated the lead for World Water Day 2010.

For 2010, 'Clean Water for a Healthy World' initiatives around the world focus on water quality challenges and solutions, with the central event organized by UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya on 20-22 March.

The World Water Day 2010 theme of "Clean Water for a Healthy World" calls attention to Millennium Development Goal No.7, to ensure environmental sustainability, particularly in:

-integrating principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reversing the loss of environmental resources (Target 1);

-significantly reducing biodiversity loss and rate of loss (Target 2);

-halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015 (Target 3); and

-achieving significant improvements in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 (Target 4).

Worldwide, events are planned to mark World Water Day 2010 and activities on water quality to further "Clean Water for a Healthy World" will be ongoing throughout the year.

For a list of international events, to add an event and to access outreach materials and further information, visit www.unwater.org/worldwaterday.

For more information on how individuals can participate in World Water Day 2010 and address challenges to the world's water quality, visit: www.worldwaterday2010.info.

About the Nairobi World Water Day event:

The flagship celebration of World Water Day at the UNEP/UN-Habitat headquarters in Nairobi on 20-22 March is jointly hosted by UNEP, UN-Habitat, the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), and the Government of Kenya.

The event will bring together scientists from around the world for a panel on 'Water Quality Challenges and Responses' and will also include site visits to Lake Victoria, Kibera/Nairobi River and the Kenyan Coast in order to illustrate the critical importance of water quality for ecosystem functioning, human well-being and livelihoods.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will deliver a message for World Water Day 2010, and the afternoon's keynote address will be delivered by His Royal Highness Prince Willem Alexander of Orange, Netherlands, who serves as the Chair of UNSGAB.

For more information please contact:

Nick Nuttall at mobile: + 254 733 632755 / +41 79 596 57 37 or e-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Anne-France White at mobile: +254 728 600494 or e-mail: anne-france.white@unep.org




Further Resources

Clearing the Waters: A Focus on Water Quality Solutions

UNEP: World Water Day

UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner's Message for World Water Day

World Water Day 2010

Kenya Prime Minister, Raila Odinga's Message for World Water Day


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