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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Summit confronts water crisis
Delegates at a morning plenary session of the World Summit on Sustainable Development
Delegates have been buoyed by progress on Tuesday
Delegates at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg have called for urgent action to provide clean drinking water and decent sanitation to billions of the world's poorest people.

According to the United Nations, 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water, and 2.4 billion have no sanitation.

Woman collecting water
12 million die every year from problems associated with poor water
As the talks continued, United Nations officials expressed optimism over how the meeting is going, following a draft agreement on Tuesday to protect diminishing fish stocks.

Many environmental activists had initially been pessimistic that any real developments would come out of the summit.

A BBC correspondent in Johannesburg, Elizabeth Blunt, says the controversy over sanitation has arisen because it was virtually ignored at the world conference in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago.

Perhaps wells and piped water are greater vote-winners than lavatories and latrines, she says, but both are equally important to good health.

Vital issues

South African Water Minister Ronnie Kasrils spoke at the conference of his initial bewilderment at an outbreak of cholera at Kwazulu-Natal, despite the fact his government had provided clean water.

Summit (AFP)
40,000 delegates are attending the 10-day summit
He said the realisation that the lack of safe sanitation was the problem had converted him to missionary zeal on this issue.

The UN hopes the summit will agree to double the number of people with access to clean water and sanitation by 2015.

The United States has resisted setting new targets for action, but European Union officials back the sanitation proposals.

"It's important not only that people should be able to get drinking water, but to be able to get rid of waste water," said Danish Environment Minister Hans Christian Schmidt.

Getting worse

The global water situation has deteriorated since the Rio summit 10 years ago, according to experts.

  • Half the rivers of the world have seen their levels fall, or are polluted, and falling water-tables have become a serious problem in some regions of India, China, west Asia, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and the west of the United States.
  • Seven major rivers no longer reach the sea, and 500 Chinese lakes have disappeared because of the demands of irrigation, according to Global Water Partnership.
  • The World bank says that by 2025, 48 countries with a joint population of 1.4 billion could experience water stress or scarcity, up from 29 countries with 436 million people in 1995.
  • In 30 years, unless urgent steps are taken, half the inhabitants of the planet are likely to suffer from a lack of water, according to the World Bank.

Fish breakthrough

When the summit opened, delegates were largely pessimistic that any lasting agreements could be reached, but according to BBC News Online's correspondent at the summit, Alex Kirby, an agreement over fish stocks on Tuesday night has eased the dour mood.

Delegates agreed to protect the world's oceans and restore depleted fish stocks, "where possible", by 2015.

Activists were generally happy that the summit set a target date, but expressed concern it was too far in the future to fully protect shark, tuna and swordfish communities.

UN officials also say that progress has also been made in talks on trade and finance.

But serious differences remain on many issues. For example, the Americans are resisting pressure for targets on the use of renewable or cleaner energy.

The UN says it hopes an overall draft agreement will be in place before the heads of state arrive at the beginning of next week.

The BBC's David Loyn
"The World Bank is positioning itself firmly on the side of the poor"
The BBC's Barnaby Philllips in Johannesburg
"On energy the real sticking point is the US"
WaterAid's Stephen Turner
"We need to see money on the table"

Key stories



See also:

28 Aug 02 | Africa
25 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
22 Aug 02 | Africa
06 Aug 02 | Africa
27 Aug 02 | Africa
12 Aug 02 | Americas
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