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Experts Seek to Increase Africans' Access to Water - 2002-04-15

African governments, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations have launched a three-day meeting in Ghana examining the issue of water. Organizers of the meeting say an estimated 40 percent of Africa's population does not have regular access to safe water and that, they say, is one of the major factors hindering development on the continent.

The conference in Accra, Ghana, brings together more than 200 delegates, including cabinet ministers, U.N. officials and experts on water.

The delegates are looking at ways to give more people on the continent access to water that is safe to drink.

In opening remarks, Ghanaian President John Kufuor said that despite being home to several of the world's great rivers and lakes, Africa remains a continent vulnerable to droughts. The Ghanaian leader blamed this on what he said is a lack of technical know-how in managing the region's water resources. Mr. Kufuor said nations in the region must engage in partnerships in order to tackle what he says is a regional problem.

The meeting in Accra was organized by the United Nations and the government of the Netherlands under the sponsorship of the African Development Bank.

Speaking at the opening ceremony Monday, the Netherlands' Crown Prince Willem Alexander, who serves as an adviser on water issues to U.N. Secretary General Koffi Annan, said only 40 percent of Africa's people have access to safe drinking water. He said there is a clear link between poverty and a lack of access to safe water. The prince said nations need to address shortages before they can achieve sustained economic development.

The United Nations says the nations with the most severe shortages of safe water in Africa are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Mozambique and Uganda. Officials say people in these countries live on less than 30 liters of water a day - the amount set by the United Nations as a bare minimum.

The meeting in Accra is a prelude to an international conference that is scheduled later in South Africa.