is slipping in goal of fresh water to poor
By Alister Doyle
OSLO, Norway - The world is slipping behind a U.N. goal
of supplying fresh water by 2015 to more than a half-billion
people in developing nations who currently lack it, the
head of a U.N. Commission said Tuesday.
Governments agreed at a 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg,
South Africa, to work out by next year national plans
for halving the proportion of people with no access to
fresh water by 2015, now 1.2 billion people, or one in
five of the world population.
"These plans will not be in place in all countries
by 2005," said Boerge Brende, chairman of the U.N.
Commission on Sustainable Development which follows up
the Johannesburg goals. "It's clear that some countries
haven't thought about it so far ... and it's often the
countries that are worst off in water," he told a
news conference. "We must have plans in place or
we don't have a chance of reaching the 2015 goals."
Brende, who is also Norway's environment minister, said
about 100 environment ministers would meet in New York
April 14 to 30 to review the water targets, and a related
goal of improving sanitation for an estimated 2.4 billion
He said the water targets were "still doable ...
but it will be a big challenge." Sub-Saharan Africa
faces the biggest problems, while India and China seem
better prepared despite their huge populations.
Fresh water would have spin-off benefits in curbing poverty,
improving health, or even defusing potential conflicts
in areas with shared rivers, Brende said.
Water Flash Points
The Middle East or central Asia could be flash points
in future with no proper management of scant water resources.
"And 70 percent of those who are sick in India are
ill because of water-related illnesses," Brende said.
"In Africa one of the main reasons why girls do not
go to school is that they spend half their day fetching
water and the other half looking for firewood. So there's
no time for education," he said.
Brende said that the water goal meant that 300,000 people
needed to gain access to fresh supplies every day. "In
the 1980s, the so-called water decade, we managed 250,000
people a day over 10 years," he said. "But it
wasn't properly planned."
He said that many water pumps set up in Africa in the
1980s were not in use because of a lack of spare parts.
Elsewhere, water supplies have been polluted by sewage.
In Nairobi, slum dwellers had to use bottled water, Brende
said, costing more than gasoline, while less impoverished
people with piped supplies got water cheap because of
And in some nations irrigation systems had siphoned off
fresh water to crops. The Aral Sea in central Asia has
shrunk to one-quarter of its original size due to water
use by cotton farmers.