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World Water Day: Coping With Water Scarcity


Coping with water scarcity is the theme of this year's World Water Day (March 22nd). World Water Day is an annual day of observance and action coordinated by the United Nations with many non-governmental organizations, to draw attention to the more than one billion people worldwide lacking access to clean, safe potable water. VOA's Paul Sisco has more.

The world's great religions consider water to be sacred, linked to rebirth, cleansing and purification. And rightly so. All life as we know it requires water. It covers three quarters of the planet, but of that, barely a quarter of one percent is salt free, renewable, and available for use on a sustainable basis.

Many people have enough, but millions on the planet do not. Forty percent of the world's population has no access to sanitation facilities.

Joakim Harlin of the United Nations Development Program says, “Already it is a crisis. Today we have about two million children annually dying due to the water and sanitation crisis. This is a large number. It corresponds to about 5,000 deaths every day."

The United Nations looks to World Water Day to make people more aware of global water shortages -- a problem that is getting worse.

"It's growing also because of climate change,” says Harlin, “and adding to this problem, it's also growing because of lack of governance, and inequality between rich and poor."

In India's capital, New Delhi, millions do not have any running water. Even in more affluent neighborhoods, young and old wait hours then scramble for trucked-in supplies that are not reliably sanitary.

"The water is not fit for drinking but we have no choice,” says one resident. “Fifty pipes go into the tanker. Some of those pipes have been used in toilets, the same pipe is used to drain water which we then use to bath in and drink."

One young woman in Ghana, like many in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere walk kilometers for water. "I have to collect for my family five times a day."

Afghan villagers are luckier that most. International aid has restored some supply pipelines to their once-dry village. "Previously, the people were carrying water from remote areas. This project, with the help of the people, having the new pipes solved a lot of problems."

In 2000, the United Nations set a millennium goal of reducing by half those without access to clean water by the year 2015. This year, more than a billion more people now have clean water. But 1.1 billion are still without clean water, and more than two and a half billion people do not have basic hygiene facilities. Nevertheless, the U.N.'s Joakim Harlin says the goal can be met.

"It would require in the order of about 40 billion dollars to meet the water-related entities, but it is doable. It is only about one month of spending on bottled water in the U.S. and Europe combined."

Harlin says the key is for everyone -- communities, organizations and governments on all levels -- to meet the global water challenge with cooperation, coordination and credible action. He says the cost of doing nothing is that two million children will die this year for lack of it.

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