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New Website Addresses Global Drinking Water Crisis


The World Health Organization says two and a half billion people in developing countries do not have access to simple latrines, and for at least one billion of them, finding safe drinking water is a daily struggle. VOA's Melinda Smith has more on what a group of international scientists is doing to tackle the issue.

Clean water is essential to survival. Human beings need at least 20 to 50 liters of water a day for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Without safe water and sanitation, deadly diseases can spread.

Peter Gleick is a scientist who has written about the link between safe water and human health. "...That failure in the 21st century leads to water related diseases -- cholera, dysentery, guinea worm, schistosomaisis -- there's a whole set of diseases associated with the failure to meet basic human needs for water."

Gleick is part of an international group of scientists, engineers and philanthropists who have launched an Internet website called Safe Drinking Water Is Essential. By going to the site, viewers can read about water resources and methods of treatment and distribution.

The organization is also sending to developing countries 10,000 CD-ROM's -- produced in five languages -- with more text and images about the subject. The producers of the CD say the terminology is simple enough to then be translated into a variety of indigenous languages.

Hame Watt, a water resource expert originally from Senegal, says the website and CD should be easy to follow even at the local level. "Because it has a lot of interactive images and [is] easy to follow, easy to understand. A manager or an agent who serves as a representative of the villages of the rural areas could explain easily the CD to some people in the villages."

The scientists at a recent Washington, DC news conference caution this is just one educational tool that people can use to learn about clean water. But simple methods, they say, are sometimes the most effective and life-changing.

For centuries, for example, women have spent hours in the daily task of gathering water, which is often contaminated. But in some regions a simple net is now used to filter the water before drinking, cooking and cleaning. And the rates of many diseases like typhoid and cholera have been cut dramatically.

In the year 2000, the United Nations set out a series of goals to improve the lives of the poor. Among them is the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. The target date for that ambitious goal is just eight years away.

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