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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore reports
"The findings on the state of the world's water supply are devastating"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 05:28 GMT
'Billions without clean water'
Water everywhere but very little is safe to drink
Half the world's population is living in unsanitary conditions without access to clean water, according to a UN-backed report.

The report, drawn up by the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century, says three billion of the world's most deprived people live in squalor and misery without access to proper sanitation.

One billion of them have no access to safe water at all.

But the report says this does not have to be the case.

The equivalent of 12 jumbo jets of children die everyday from sanitation-related diseases

UN water expert Brian Appleton
The commission says that everyone could have clean drinking water and improved sanitation facilities within 25 years if governments made water provision a priority.

It says access to water should be seen as a basic human right as well as a key factor in the fight against diseases such as typhoid and cholera.

Radical rethink needed

UN water expert Brian Appleton says 5,000 children die needlessly every day from waterborne illnesses:

"That's equivalent to 12 full jumbo jets crashing every day," he says.

Report recommends
More than doubling annual investment in water supply to $180bn, with focus on sustainable use of water
Letting private sector take the lead in providing water supplies
Scrapping water subsidies that encourage waste
Setting up Water Innovation Fund to foster smart ideas for water technology.
"If 12 full Jumbo jets were crashing every day, the world would want to do something about it - they would want to find out why it was happening."

The UN is calling on governments to concentrate on community-based initiatives, which it says are more cost-effective and efficient than hi-tech centralised water-supply policies.

Such projects in India, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Tanzania have dramatically improved people's living conditions and health levels, it argues.

'Time running out'

But, the UN warns, time is running out.

Efforts to improve global hygiene are not keeping pace with the population explosion.

If governments do not radically rethink their policies, the UN says, the world's water crisis will get worse.

The World Commission on Water for the 21st Century is sponsored by a number of UN agencies, and is chaired by Ismail Serageldin, vice-president of the World Bank.

The report is to be presented at the second world water forum in the Netherlands, starting on 17 March.

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