Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A recap of World Water Day

Yesterday was World Water Day, as leaders throughout the world took some time to address and discuss water use issues. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made remarks to the National Geographic Society yesterday, where she said that the water crisis is a central issue to US foreign policy.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Matthew Berger gives us some background on World Water Day which began in 1992.

Eighteen years later, those crises are only becoming more immediate. Glaciers and snow packs in the Himalayas and East Africa are disappearing, as are the rivers and streams into which they feed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected that 75 to 250 million people in Africa will suffer increased water stress due to the climatic changes by 2020.

But climate change is only part of the equation. A booming global population, poor sanitation, and unsustainable agricultural and household water use all contribute to strain the water cycle that sustains life on Earth, putting both the quantity and quality of the planet's most important resource in danger.

The World Health Organisation says that water scarcity affects one in three people on every continent and that one-fifth of people live in areas where water is physically scarce. Another quarter of the world's population face water shortages due to a lack of infrastructure to transport water from river and aquifers.

These are not just humanitarian but security matters, Clinton said Wednesday. "And that's why President [Barack] Obama and I recognise that water issues are integral to the success of many of our major foreign policy initiatives."

She noted that addressing water shortages and quality is central to ensuring the "stability of young governments in Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations depends in part on their ability to provide their people with access to water and sanitation."

Among the other specific initiatives that must take water issues into account, Clinton cited the Global Health Initiative, which commits 63 billion dollars over six years to improve children's health and fight preventable diseases in poorer countries, among other health goals.

The effects of poor water access or sanitation are well-known. A report from the U.N. Environment Programme released Monday said 1.8 million children under five years old die due to a lack of clean water. The report also said diarrhoea, mostly caused by dirty water, kills about 2.2 million people a year and that over half the world's hospital beds are occupied by those suffering "illnesses linked with contaminated water."

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