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Experts, Industry Leaders, Decision Makers Meet to Discuss World's Water Problems

A polluted river

A polluted river

This Sunday, analysts, industry leaders and decision markers from around the world gather in Stockholm to discuss water problems at an annual event called World Water Week. The lack of access to safe drinking water leads to the deaths of millions of people each year.

There's plenty of water - at least in some parts of the world. In Pakistan, far more than anyone wants, just the opposite in Russia, suffering lately from hot weather, fire and drought.

Clean, safe drinking water is another matter. Even with modern advances, a great many people do not have nearly enough, or safe sanitation facilities.

Katherine Bliss is the deputy director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Around one billion people do not have access to an improved water drinking source, whether it is in their home, or even something in their own courtyard or down the street, but a place where they can get reliable and safe drinking water to use for themselves for their cooking and family consumption," said Katherine Bliss.

Each year, 3.6 million die of water born diseases. UNICEF says 5,000 children die each day from diarrhea.

Anders Berntell is the executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, the sponsor of World Water Week.

"By sheer numbers this out weighs all the other catastrophes and wars that we have on our planet," said Anders Berntell. "I think it's a tragedy that something that is so easy to fix, still has this enormous effect."

Berntell says it is not just developing countries that grapple with water quality issues.

"One of the emerging challenges that we are facing is the effuse spreading of chemicals, in particular from our households," he said.

Steven Solomon is the author of the book Water: the Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization. He says the importance of water is an issue that often is hidden in plain view.

"We don't recognize how much water that it takes to run the kind of society that we live in," said Steven Solomon. "I'll sometimes say, 'Water is taking over oil as the scarcest critical resource.' In a sense, it has always been the most important resource."

Climate change, increasingly crowded cities, industrialization and agriculture all have an impact on water resources and quality.

Again Katherine Bliss of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"There seems to be on the one hand, greater needs per capita for water in areas where population has been growing and perhaps in areas that are dependent on ground water supplies," she said. "We are seeing those diminished or contaminated. And yet by the same token increasing flood cycles whether related to hurricanes, extreme weather events and other kinds of challenges."

Meanwhile, as the flood waters begin to recede in some areas of Pakistan, health officials say the threat from water borne disease and a lack of clean, fresh water present new challenges. The U.N. says 3.6 million hectares of arable land and 1.2 million livestock are already lost. Some 1,600 people are dead - millions of others homeless.