In preparation for the UN Secretary General’s report on Water and the Millennium Development Review for 2005, UK stakeholders agreed this week that water issues must take a much higher place on political agendas than they presently do.

The recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and children’s charity UNICEF pinpointed the number of deaths related to poor sanitation and lack of access to clean water (see related story).

But, rather than investing in cleaning up water supplies in the developing world, donor states should be concentrating on pouring more clean water into the agricultural industry, according to Andy Bullock, independent consultant and former World Water Forum secretariat, who said that twice as many people in the developing world were killed by malnutrition as by diarrhoea.

“Official figures may show that targets are on track to be met, but it is vital that water and sanitation take a higher place on political agendas,” said Mr Bullock. “When tackling the burden of disease and number of deaths from unclean water, the highest reduction in child mortality rates can be made through improving agricultural water supplies, rather than sanitation.”

He also added that many reports on water issues around the world still did not give a complete picture as many key factors heavily affected by water, such as economic growth, were largely overlooked.

International marine environment policy advisor for Defra, Chris Tompkins, agreed that it was time for water issues to take political priority, saying that the environment had not been present in enough policies. “We must accept that we can’t solve everything, but we have an opportunity to engage with communities and we need to focus on our perceived goals,” Mr Tompkins stated. “By using innovative finance mechanisms and improving inter-agency cooperation, we can try and reach these goals.”

Another key point that needed to be taken more seriously by the British Government and others around the world was the social implications that water-related concerns had. Freshwater Action Network coordinator Danielle Morley stated: “Water is key to social development, and this is just not being recognised by most governments.”

The social issue tied up in water politics were also reiterated by Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth (Foe) Middle East. He said that as water was a trans-boundary issue throughout the Middle East, it caused constant power struggles to control resources.

However, he added that in areas of great social conflict and unrest, water issues had actually broken down barriers between countries such as Israel and Palestine, causing people to work together to clean up and distribute resources that would usually perceive each other to be enemies.

“Water is increasingly a concern for the world as a whole and will become more so as global supplies dwindle,” said Mr Bromberg. “Water can be an impetus for further conflict, but it could also act as a common leveller, requiring cooperation from country to country around the world in order to resolve these problems.”

By Jane Kettle

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