19 May 2003


NEW YORK, 16 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for World Environment Day, 5 June 2003:

The theme of World Environment Day 2003 -- "Water: Two Billion People Are Dying for It!" -- highlights the centrality of water to human survival and sustainable development.

At the Millennium Summit and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the international community set measurable, time-bound commitments for the provision of safe water and sanitation. These targets -- to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation services, both by the year 2015 -- are vital in and of themselves, but are also crucial if we are to meet the other Millennium Development Goals, including reducing child mortality, combating malaria, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, empowering women, and improving the lives of slum-dwellers.

Current statistics are disturbing. One person in six lives without regular access to safe drinking water. Over twice that number -- 2.4 billion people -- lack access to adequate sanitation. Water-related diseases kill a child every eight seconds, and are responsible for 80 per cent of all illnesses and deaths in the developing world -- a situation made all the more tragic by our long-standing knowledge that these diseases are easily preventable.

Although the provision of water services has risen across the developing world during the past 20 years, those gains have largely been cancelled out by population growth. Many parts of the world now face the spectre of water scarcity because of climate change, pollution and over-consumption. Our challenge is to provide water services to all, especially the poor; to maximize water productivity, especially in agriculture, which accounts for the lion’s share of global water use yet is often inefficient in many of its routine water-using practices; and to ensure that rivers and groundwater aquifers that are shared between two or more countries are equitably and harmoniously managed.

What is needed, along with fresh water, is fresh thinking. We need to learn how to value water. While, in some instances, that may mean making users pay a realistic price, it must never mean depriving already marginalized people of this vital resource. It is one of the crueller ironies of today’s world water situation that those with the lowest income generally pay the most for their water.

Fresh thinking also means finding practical, appropriate solutions to ensure the reliable and equitable supply of water. Some of these solutions are simple and cheap. Rainwater harvesting, for instance, could help up to 2 billion people in Asia alone. End-of-pipe water purification and public health education about basic hygiene practices would go a long way towards alleviating the global disease burden caused by dirty water.

Providing adequate sanitation and sustainable freshwater supplies will also require significant new investment in infrastructure and technology. To meet the agreed targets, it is estimated that annual spending on safe drinking water and sanitation will have to more than double.

On this World Environment Day, in this, the International Year of Freshwater, let us pledge to do our utmost to respond to the plight of 2 billion of our fellow human beings, who are dying for want of water and sanitation.

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