UN Launches “Water for Life” Decade

Water is essential for life, yet millions of people around the world face water shortages and a daily struggle to secure safe water for their basic needs.

Water is essential for life, yet millions of people around the world face water shortages and a daily struggle to secure safe water for their basic needs. Each year more than 1 billion people are forced by circumstance to use potentially harmful sources of water: 4 of every 10 people in the world do not have access to even a simple pit latrine and nearly 2 in 10 have no source of safe drinking water. As a result, some 3900 children die every day from water borne diseases, according to the United Nations.

In the past decade, significant progress has been made in providing people with access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation. But a major effort is still needed to extend essential services to those still unserved.

With that goal in mind, the United Nations has launched the International Decade for Action, “Water for Life”, 2005-2015.

“Meeting the water and sanitation targets set by the international community for 2015 is a crucial step towards the ultimate goal of providing safe drinking water and adequate sanitation to all,” said Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General.

The primary goal of the Water for Life Decade is to achieve international development goals relating to water, through cooperation on water issues and participation of women.

Women and girls are overwhelmingly the water haulers of the world, a task that consumes valuable time and energy. On average, women walk a distance of six kilometers each day, carrying 20 liters of water. In India, it is estimated that the national cost of women fetching water is 150 million women work days per year, equivalent to a national loss of income of approximately $208 million.

The vast majority of the world’s people who are unserved by either water supply or sanitation live in Asia, where 65 percent of people lack access to a safe water supply and 80 percent do not have access to adequate sanitation.

Taking into account the projected growth of the world population, meeting the Millennium targets will require that an additional 1.5 billion people gain access to some form of improved water supply by 2015. In other words, 100 million people each year or 274,000 people each day.

The Millennium Development Goals, approved by all 191 United Nations Member States at the Millennium Summit in 2000, set specific targets for reducing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women by 2015.

Among these targets, governments agreed to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015. The Millennium Declaration emphasized the need for all countries to stop the unsustainable exploitation of water resources. Governments addressed this issue at the Johannesburg Summit in 2002 by agreeing to develop integrated water resource management and water efficiency plans by 2005. They also added a complementary target to halve by 2015 the proportion of people lacking improved sanitation.

Providing access to water and sanitation is also fundamental for achieving the other Millennium Development Goals, such as alleviating poverty, hunger and malnutrition; reducing child mortality; increasing gender equality; providing more opportunity for education; and ensuring environmental sustainability.

To read more about the International Decade for Action, “Water for Life”, 2005-2015, visit http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade.

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