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Planet Ark World Environment News Millions dying needlessly from dirty water - WHO

Date: 23-Mar-01
Country: EU
Author: Robin Pomeroy

The world's poor pay more than the rich for worse water - up to 20 percent of household incomes - but are more at risk from water-borne illnesses, the WHO said during a news conference to mark World Water Day yesterday.

"Over the past 10 years we have been running to stand still," said Jamie Bartram, the WHO's water, health and sanitation coordinator.

"In 1990 1.1 billion people were without access to improved water - even just a covered well. In 2000 the number was the same."

He said that 2.4 billion people had no basic sanitation in 1990 and that the situation was the same in 2000.

As well as increasing diseases like diarrhoea and malaria, the lack of safe water condemns many women and children to poverty, denying them education or gainful employment as they are forced to spend several hours a day carrying water.

The challenge of getting clean water to all is increasing, the WHO said, due to an increasingly urbanised world population, and the threat of climate change bringing more floods and spreading tropical diseases to formerly temperate regions.

But in a report, "Water for Health, Taking Charge", the WHO said easy and inexpensive efforts to purify water and improve personal hygiene could massively reduce deaths caused by dirty water.

Microbes responsible for many diarrhoeal illnesses can be killed through chlorinating water in households, or by using sunlight to disinfect water stored in plastic bottles.

Diarrhoea can also be cut by up to 35 percent by encouraging people to wash their hands, the study said.Malaria can be tackled by local clean up of mosquito breeding grounds.

The WHO estimated that such low-cost initiatives could halve the number of people suffering from poor water and sanitation by 2015.

"About $16 billion is spent on the provision of safe water and sanitation throughout the world," Wilfried Kreisel, executive director of the WHO's European Union Office, said.

"In order to halve the number of people suffering from diseases due to contaminated water, it would be necessary to spend $23 billion.

"(The $7 billion difference) is one tenth of what Europeans spend annually on alcoholic beverages," Kreisel said.

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