Press Releases

19 March 2008

The Secretary-General

Message on World Water Day

22 March 2008

VIENNA, 22 March (UN Information Service) -- This year, World Water Day coincides with the International Year of Sanitation, challenging us to spur action on a crisis affecting more than one out of three people on the planet.

Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of the abysmal sanitation conditions endured by some 2.6 billion people globally. That adds up to an unconscionable 1.5 million young lives cut short by a cause we know well how to prevent.

Poor sanitation combines with a lack of safe drinking water and inadequate hygiene to contribute to the terrible global death toll. Those who survive face diminished chances of living a healthy and productive existence. Children, especially girls, are forced to stay out of school, while hygiene-related diseases keep adults from engaging in productive work.

Leaders who adopted the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 envisioned halving the proportion of people living without access to basic sanitation by the year 2015 - but we are nowhere near on pace to achieve that goal. Experts predict that by 2015, 2.1 billion people will still lack basic sanitation. At the present rate, sub-Saharan Africa will not reach the target until 2076.

While there have been advances, progress is hampered by population growth, widespread poverty, insufficient investments to address the problem and the biggest culprit: a lack of political will.

With the right resolve, there are many steps that members of the international community can take. The Commission Sustainable Development in 2005 outlined a series of measures aimed at securing meaningful progress, holding Governments of affected countries primarily responsible. It also called for international support through a conducive policy environment, financial resources and the transfer of technology to countries in need.

If we take up the challenge, the positive impact will reverberate far beyond better access to clean water. Every dollar invested in water and sanitation yields an estimated seven dollars worth of productive activity. And that comes on top of the immeasurable gains in cutting poverty, improving health and raising living standards.

World Water Day offers a chance to spotlight these issues, but this year let us go beyond raising awareness - let us press for action to make a measurable difference in people's lives.

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