LONDON- A new Water Poverty Index developed
to highlight the differences between water-rich and water-poor
nations will be the cornerstone of the Third Water Forum
in the Japanese city of Kyoto next March.
The Index, developed by a team of researchers at Britain's
Center for Ecology and Hydrology and experts from the
World Water Council, was unveiled Wednesday ahead of
the International Year of Freshwater.
Out of a total of 147 countries, it ranks Finland
top followed by Canada, Iceland, Norway, Guyana, Suriname,
Austria, Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland.
At the bottom end of the scale, Haiti lies at 147th,
preceded by Niger, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Djibouti,
Chad Benin, Rwanda, and Burundi. Not surprisingly, almost
all the most water-rich nations are in the northern
hemisphere and almost all those with the least water
are in Africa.
But, in a departure from usual practice, the researchers
did not only use access to good quality water as their
benchmark. They took five different criteria to construct
their index: resource, access, use, capacity, and environment.
Research team leader Caroline Sullivan said this explained
why rich nations like the United States ranked a relatively
lowly 33rd while developing nations such as Guyana and
Suriname came in at fifth and sixth respectively.
"The International Water Poverty Index demonstrates
that it is not the amount of water resources available
that determine poverty levels in a country, but the
effectiveness of how you use those resources," she said.
"The links between poverty, social deprivation, environmental
integrity, water availability, and health becomes clearer
in the WPI, enabling policy makers ... to identify where
problems exist and the appropriate measures to deal
with their causes," she added.
Experts calculate that 20 percent of the world's population
in a total of 30 countries faced water shortages in
2000, a figure expected to climb to 30 percent or 2.3
billion people in a total of 50 countries by 2025.
The Earth Summit in Johannesburg in September set
the world a target of halving the number of people without
access to clean water and sanitation by 2015.
It is a commitment due to be turned into concrete
plans on March 22 at the Kyoto meeting which is already
being flagged as likely to be the most important water
conference ever held.
The World Health Organization estimates that water-related
infections hit more than 3 billion people every year,
killing more than 5 million of them - mostly from diarrheal
"In economic terms this represents a great loss both
in terms of a reduction in the labor force and in terms
of the loss of productivity associated with this," Sullivan
said, adding that diarrhea alone costs $6 billion a