The world's richest states must spearhead
efforts to tackle a water and sanitation crisis that is killing and
spreading disease among millions and holding back economies, especially
in Africa, a U.N. report said on Thursday.
The United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) 2006 Human Development Report recommended that all governments guarantee every person at least 20 litres of clean water a day and spend at least one percent of GDP on water and sanitation.
The report, which is regarded as a snapshot on the world's progress on key development issues, also urged the most industrialised countries to raise international aid to poorer nations by $3.4 billion to $4 billion annually.
Without concerted action by the G8, a grouping that includes the United States and Britain, millions in the developing world will continue to be plagued by avoidable poverty, poor health and diminished economic opportunities, the report warned.
"National governments need to draw up credible plans and strategies for tackling the crisis in water and sanitation," said Kevin Watkins, lead author of the report, which was released in Cape Town.
"But we also need a global action plan -- with active buy-in from the G8 countries -- to focus fragmented international efforts to mobilise resources and galvanise political action by putting water and sanitation front and centre on the development agenda," he said.
The call to action came amid worrying signs large tracts of the developing world will not meet eight U.N. Millennium development goals agreed by world leaders -- ranging from reducing extreme poverty to halting the spread of AIDS by 2015.
If current trends hold, sub-Saharan Africa would only reach the U.N. Millennium clean water target in 2040. The Arab nations are 27 years off the mark.
LIVES OF MILLIONS AT STAKE
At stake are the lives of millions of children as well as the health and economic well-being of more than two billion others living in developing nations, where drinking contaminated water from drains or streams is often the norm.
About 1.8 million children around the world die each year from diarrhoea that could be prevented by access to clean water or a toilet and almost half of those in the developing world are sick at any given time due to poor water and sanitation.
Besides health benefits, supporters predict a global clean water campaign would spur economic growth in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, which loses five percent of its GDP each year due to poor water and sanitation, according to the report.
Each dollar invested in water and sanitation improvements would return $8 through increased productivity, reduced healthcare costs and other economic windfalls, especially for the poor who often pay more for clean water, the report stated.
Efforts to better manage water resources could also reduce the likelihood of wars and armed conflicts erupting over ownership and access to a basic necessity that is increasingly viewed by governments as a prized economic asset.
While praising the UNDP for addressing the crisis, some international development workers worried that the report would fall on deaf ears or be swallowed into a morass of bureaucracy -- the U.N. has some two dozen agencies working on water issues.
People living without water and sanitation "need one international water monitoring body taking urgent action, and prepared to name and shame those failing to deliver, be they donor or recipient governments," said Paul Hetherington of WaterAid, a British-based non-governmental organisation.
A global water and sanitation campaign could be patterned on the Global Fun to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has won praise from some quarters for battling the pandemic with a minimal amount of bureaucracy, the UNDP report said.
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