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Great Lakes Article:

World 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 people.

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 subsidies.

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.

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