forum told one billion lives threatened by bad water
Associated Foreign Press
DUSHANBE (AFP) - Nearly one billion people -- or one in
every six people in the world -- lack access to safe drinking
water and the developed world must understand this threat,
a UN-sponsored forum heard.
Delegates from some 50 underdeveloped nations gathered
in this isolated former Soviet Central Asian republic
to decide how the problem of the "year of fresh water,"
so designated by the United Nations, could be resolved.
The host, President Emomali Rakhmonov of landlocked Tajikistan,
raised the alarm by noting that the Aral Sea -- drying
up since the Soviet era -- has left a toxic wasteland
threatening some three million local residents and "that
could "cause climate change over a vast territory."
"Today more than one billion people the world over
lack access to safe drinking water," Rakhmonov told
delegates from around 50 countries.
"All over the world both the quantity and quality
of safe water are decreasing as a result of pollution,
over-consumption and mismanagement," UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan said in a written message to the conference:
"Each year more than two million children die from
Clouds of pesticide-laden salt continue to be blown across
Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan from
the Aral Sea.
"It has become quite evident that either single-handedly
or with the support of all Central Asian states, Tajikistan
will not be able to deal with the threat of a humanitarian
and ecological disaster," the Tajik president warned.
But critics doubt Central Asian leaders' commitment to
cooperating on the water issue.
For some participants it remained doubtful whether the
usually fractious Central Asian leaders are prepared to
pay more than lip service to the need to consult affected
residents or cooperate between the countries by sharing
information and coordinating the release of water from
"They are at the very beginning stages at best,"
Margaret Catley-Carlson, chair of the Global Water Partnership
water management reform organization, told AFP.
There are also worries that new demand for Central Asian
water could come from neighboring war-torn Afghanistan
as it attempts to develop its northern agricultural sector.
Other delegates were keen to boost cooperation in river
basins shared by countries elsewhere such as the water-scarce
Middle East, where the overthrow of Iraq's Saddam Hussein
has renewed debate over the Euphrates River.
Already severely short of fresh water, the members of
the UN's western Asia region such as Egypt, Palestine,
Saudi Arabia and Iraq can expect their renewable fresh
water reserves to drop by half by 2025, Mervat Tallawy,
executive secretary of the UN's economic and social commission
for western Asia, said.
The UN's new World Water Development Report estimates
that some 2.2 million people around the world died due
to water-related diseases last year.
Partly due to global warming, well over two billion people
will be suffering from water scarcity by the middle of
this century, the report warns.