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Great Lakes Article:

UN warns of water-borne catastrophe

Warning of a mounting water crisis, the United Nations has launched the International Year of Freshwater (2003).

"Water is likely to become a growing source of tension and fierce competition between nations if present trends continue, but it can also be a catalyst for cooperation," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a statement yesterday.

Two of the aims of the campaign were to raise awareness about the scale of the crisis and to promote creative thinking about ways to end it, Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette told the General Assembly.

About 1.2 billion people -- one-fifth of the world population -- lack safe drinking water and twice as many have no sanitation. UN figures show that more than three million people a year die from diseases caused by unsafe water.

Heads of state and government agreed at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000 to halve that proportion by 2015.

"If we continue with 'business as usual', it will take only a little more than two decades for two-thirds of the world's population to be living in moderate to severe water stress," Frechette said.

It was unthinkable to "condemn so many people to poverty, poor health and despair", she said, when "the investments required to avert this catastrophic scenario are within our means, not beyond." The UN estimates that spending on drinking water supply and sanitation worldwide would have to increase from about USD 30 billion a year to between USD 44 and 60 billion to reach the Millennium Summit goals.


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