Global water "crisis" high on Earth Summit agenda
Author: Dean Yates
The European Union has warned the world was in a global water crisis, and made the issue a priority for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and also at final preparatory talks here on Indonesia's resort island of Bali.
Some delegates have said success - or failure - on water programmes could be a roadmarker for the summit as a whole.
The United Nations says at least 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation. More than three million people die every year from water-related diseases, the body says.
"The global water crisis is a major threat to sustainable development - to economic development, to poverty reduction, to the environment and to peace and security," EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said in a statement.
Halving by 2015 the number of people with no access to clean water and sharply reducing those who lack adequate sanitation are key targets in a draft action plan for Johannesburg being finalised in Bali after two weeks of talks due to end on Friday.
The draft includes a call for countries to make water and sanitation a priority in national development plans, improving sanitation in institutions, such as schools, and promoting safe hygiene.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has put water at the top of five areas where he wants clear commitments at the summit. The others are energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity.
The summit opens on August 26 and falls 10 years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where a blueprint was agreed for balancing the world's economic and social needs with the environment. Most objectives adopted at Rio have not been met.
WATER A CATALYST
Some delegates in Bali said water would probably be one of the least contentious issues at Johannesburg, where world leaders will also address measures to cut poverty, preserve natural ecosystems and reduce pollution, although environmentalists have criticised governments for not going far enough on targets and timetables.
"Water could be one of those catalytic issues," said Achim Steiner, director general, the World Conservation Union, the world's largest umbrella group of conservation organisations.
"Not being able to move forward on water would be seen as indicative of the summit not being able to address issues overall."
But he said there had to be a clear willingness to develop a monitoring system for programmes to ensure accountability.
One of the biggest hurdles is funding water programmes.
The EU statement said it had responded with an initiative that especially seeks to form partnerships with African governments, partly tapping funds for programmes from businesses.
The long-term initiative depends on African governments making requests, so no funding target had been set.
Programmes would, among other things, focus on water supply and sanitation in Africa along with boosting management of water resources, and aim to provide a platform for better coordination of water-related development aid, the statement added.
The EU spends 1.4 billion euros on water projects worldwide each year.
Host of the August summit, South Africa, also plans to showcase its drive to provide clean water to all its people by 2008, putting it well ahead of global goals. It has said water services had been provided to about seven million mostly black and poor South Africans since white-minority rule ended in 1994.
"South Africa is an outstanding example," Steiner said.
Some NGOs deeply dislike the idea of businesses getting involved with governments and NGOs in such initiatives - a new concept the United Nations is promoting for Johannesburg - especially in something as a sensitive and basic as water.
Others, such as the World Bank, have backed the idea, but cautioned that projects could not simply be used to seek profits.