With more than 2 million children dying each year from water-borne diseases, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on the international community to avoid further dangerous delays and move from pledges to action in order to halve by 2015 the proportion of people lacking safe drinking water and sanitation.
"Providing water services to all, especially the poor, is vital in and of itself," Mr. Annan told the International Freshwater Forum in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in a message read for him by Anwarul Chowdhury, UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.
"It is also crucial for the success of our fight against poverty, hunger and disease," he said, noting that the UN Millennium Summit pledged to halve by 2015 the proportion of people unable to reach or afford safe drinking water, and last year's Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development vowed to do likewise for those without access to basic sanitation.
"Already, an estimated 1.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion have no access to adequate sanitation," he added, stressing that the quantity and quality of safe water was decreasing worldwide due to pollution, over-consumption and poor management.
"Our challenge now is to move from commitments to concrete projects," Mr. Annan said. "We must improve water productivity, particularly in agriculture, by getting more crop per drop." Regional management of watersheds needs to be strengthened since so many water sources are shared by more than one country.
"And we need better water management strategies that promote both equitable access and adequate supplies. It is not too late to prevent serious water shortages in the decades ahead, but any further delays carry great risk," he declared.