Global action on water falling short

The Swedish premier and leading UN officials have warned that the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation by 2015 is likely to be missed.

Rapid population movement to urban areas and climate change have combined to exacerbate the problem, they told delegates at a gathering to mark World Water Week in Stockholm least week.

Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt said Sweden had a long tradition of emphasising water infrastructure when it came to giving foreign aid but increased risk of flooding and drought from climate change were making meeting the MDGs a challenge.

“It will need investments in renewable energy sources and bio-fuels. It will need efficiency and modernization of farming. It will need aid to give people access to essential sanitation,” he said.

“And perhaps most crucial – it will need a security and peacekeeping perspective to bring security and peace to areas where conflicts exist or may arise over access to water.”

The mass migration to cities or, more often, the slums which surround them, was also putting pressure on water resources in developing areas, said Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of the UN’s Habitat programme.

“Everywhere the urban poor live in places no else would dare set foot,” she said.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa slum dwellers constitute over 70% of the urban populations. In other parts of the developing world that figure is 50%.

“In many slums at least 30% of the recent migrants were environmental refugees.”

Mrs Tibaijuka called for more investment in the water sector and donor support, while making a case for more innovation in public private partnerships to help deliver the Millennium Development Goals.

The conference heard that over 1 billion people are still without clean, safe water supplies whilst double that figure lack basic sanitation.

The Millennium Development Goals were agreed in 2000 by all the world’s countries and leading development agencies such as the UN.

They range from ensuring environmental sustainability and eradicating hunger and extreme poverty to providing basic education for all and tackling the global AIDS/HIV epidemic.

David Gibbs

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