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U.N.  launches Year of Fresh Water in 2003
Priscilla Cheung
Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations is launching the International Year of Fresh Water in 2003 and promising efforts to give more people access to clean water and protect sources of drinking water.

The United Nations will host a conference in
Kyoto, Japan, in March, when it is expected to release its first comprehensive report on the world's water problems.  The report will include recommendations to protect freshwater sources, which are increasingly under threat because of degraded water quality, climate change and wetland destruction, U.N. officials said Thursday.

Another meeting is being planned for October in
Dushanbe, Tajikistan, which initiated the fresh water year project.  Other meetings also will be held throughout the year, officials said.

About 40 percent of the world population - more than 2 billion people - face water shortages.  By 2025, that figure is expected to increase to 5.5 billion, or two-thirds of the world's population, U.N.  figures show.  "As consumption rises, as unsustainable practices persist, as the effectiveness of water management policies lags badly behind the situation on the ground, the world water situation will grow only more urgent and complex," Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Louise Frechette told a General Assembly panel on the initiative.

Programs will be launched to raise awareness of the water problem and bring governments, the private sector, and non-profit groups together to find ways to ensure water conservation, U.N.  officials said.

Local communities can help achieve these goals with projects to "harvest" more rain water and keep water sources clean using simple techniques such as planting rooftop gardens to cut sewage overflow during rainstorms, Nitin Desai, the U.N. undersecretary-general leading the project, told a news conference.

Water use increased six-fold during the last century, more than twice the rate of population growth, U.N.  figures show.  About 70 percent of all available fresh water is used for agriculture, but 60 percent is lost because of inefficient irrigation systems.


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