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Great Lakes Article:

Global Water Crisis is Major Source of Poverty, Say Experts

Reuters News Service


STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Efforts to halve the number of people worldwide living in poverty by 2015 will fail unless access to clean water is radically improved, a group of leading scientists and politicians said Monday.

Klaus Toepfer, head of the United Nations Environment Program, said 2.2 million people die each year due to diseases such as cholera and dysentery caused by contaminated water.

"Without adequate clean water, there can be no escape from poverty," Toepfer said at the World Water Symposium, a gathering of some 900 politicians, scientists and industry representatives from 100 countries.

The five-day conference, organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), is due to end a week before the massive United Nations "Earth Summit" on sustainable development starts in Johannesburg.

Water is one of the five key themes United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has picked for Johannesburg.

The importance of clean drinking water has been stressed many times, but now other demands for water such as irrigation and sanitation are rising up the international agenda, experts said.

"In Johannesburg we're going to have an almighty struggle for targets and timeframe for sanitation... I think we will probably win on that," South Africa's Water Minister Ronnie Kasrils told a news conference.

After decades of uneven water distribution during the apartheid era, South Africa has included the right to water in its constitution, and is now finding ways to improve water distribution such as fixing badly leaking pipes.

In many cities across Africa, plumbing is so outdated and the infrastructure is so weak that 40 to 60 percent of the water may easily leak away, Kasrils said.

The United Nations set a target to halve the number of people living in poverty by 2015 in its millennium declaration.

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