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UN Focuses on Water Conservation - 2002-03-22

The 10th anniversary of World Water Day Friday is focusing attention on the need to stop wasting this precious but diminishing resource necessary for life. The United Nations calls the looming water crisis in many areas one of the most critical challenges facing the world today.

The United Nations says that one-billion people around the world are living without adequate water supplies and more than double that number live without basic sanitation.

Peter Rickwood of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is responsible for organizing this year's World Water Day, says the problem, simply stated, is that we are running out of water. "We have mismanaged it as a resource. We have over utilized it where it could not meet our demands for it and now we are facing the consequences of that. If we do not take urgent action, if we do not change the manner in which we consume water, we face the possibility, the probability I should say, that by the middle of the century, up to two-thirds of the population on earth will be living in areas of water scarcity. And that can range from the extreme situation to simply being faced with the headache of not having water in your tap for large parts of the day," Mr. Rickwood said.

Experts say climate change, population movements, and waste all contribute to the water crisis.

Robert Freezer is responsible for water issues in East Africa for the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He says that rapidly growing urban centers in developing nations are posing the biggest threat to safe water.

Mr. Freezer says that work must be done to educate communities about how to make sure the water they have is clean and how to best conserve it. "We can work at the grassroots level in encouraging communities to improve the water catchment or conserve water catchments leading to the development of small scale and low-technology answers to their water supply problems, that they can sustain themselves. And combined with hygiene and health education deal with the sanitation issues so that incidents of disease can be reduced and therefore mortality or morbidity can be reduced," Mr. Freezer said.

Experts also encourage water treatment and less-water-intensive irrigation systems as ways to conserve the valuable water that still exists.