14 May 2003

South Africa: Water High On Agenda: UN

Pretoria — The United Nations (UN) Commission on Sustainable Development says follow-ups to the World Summit held in Johannesburg last year will for the next two years focus on water, sanitation and human settlements.

The UN body was charged with monitoring progress made by the world's government's in implementing the agreements of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in August and September last year.

The UN commission on sustainable development concluded its annual meeting last Friday.

'By concentrating on a few issues every two-year cycle, the commission signaled its intention to make practical steps towards making sustainable development a reality,' the UN said on Monday.

Commenting at the end of the meeting, the UN head of the department of economic and social affairs Nitin Desai, who is also secretary-general of the WSSD, said: 'Unless something dramatically new happens, we are not going to reach our goals of providing 200 000 people with access to freshwater every day and 300 000 people with access to sanitation each day.

He said the UN was also aware of this. According to the UN, about 1.2 billion people, or 18 percent of the world's population, needed access to clean drinking water and over 2.4 billion people (40 per cent of the world's people) lacked access to adequate sanitation.

It said more than 2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, died each year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

Mr Desai said 'at the Johannesburg Summit, governments reaffirmed the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water ...(and those )without access to basic sanitation by 2015.'

He warned that at the present rate of investment, universal access to safe drinking water couldn't reasonably be anticipated before 2050 in Africa, 2040 in Latin America and the Caribbean and 2025 in Asia.

But he stressed: 'It is very good that water is our first focus.'

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