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Andy Atkins, Tearfund
"It is tragic if it carries on this way"
 real 56k

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge, in Delhi
"80 per cent of disease and death across the developing world is to do with the absence of safe water"
 real 28k

Richard Helmer, WHO
"There are alternatives to chlorination"
 real 28k

Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Call for world water clean-up
Women at well in Rajasthan, India
Water is often not safe to drink
The World Health Organisation has advocated a series of simple measures to help millions of people throughout the world who have no access to safe water.

In a report to coincide with World Water Day, the WHO says that more than a billion people are affected by shortages and contamination, and that more than three million die each year of water-related diseases.

But the WHO says the situation could be greatly improved by using chlorine or even sunlight to kill the tiny organisms that cause disease.

Indian refugees
People "will be forced from their homes to seek water"
In a separate report, the British-based charity, Tearfund, said that two out of three people in the world would face water shortages by the year 2025.

The charity warned that millions of people would be forced to leave their homes in search of clean water, becoming what it describes as "water refugees".

While water shortages are subjects of debates in the world's driest regions, the WHO says that many countries have plenty of water available.

Chlorine and sunlight

The problem is that it is often not safe to drink - 90% of water-related deaths are caused by contamination, not shortages.

Dried lake
Two in three people across the world "will face water shortages by 2025"
Simple measures such as using chlorine or sunlight to kill the tiny organisms that cause disease could be implemented cheaply.

Chlorination disinfects water, killing bacteria, viruses and protozoa that transmit disease.

Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight also kills bacteria. Richard Helmer, director of the WHO Health and Environment Unit told the BBC that water left in a bottle in very strong sunlight for one to two days, preferably with a black surface behind it, would be disinfected.

"This is a highly reliable method that has been proven to work," he said.

Water-related diseases were virtually unknown in countries like the Maldives which already had chlorination programmes combined with rainwater collection, Dr Helmer added.

Shrinking lakes

Tearfund claimed that the scale of water shortage was already alarming and was getting worse.

Water shortages
West and Central Africa - 20m people in six countries rely on Lake Chad for water; the lake has shrunk by 95% in the last 38 years
China - Two-thirds of cities are facing severe water shortages
Iran - up to 60% of people living in rural areas could be forced by drought to migrate to the cities
Central Asia - the level of the Aral Sea, formerly the world's fourth biggest inland sea, has dropped 16m (53 ft) and its area has almost halved
Its report said the world's water supply was not keeping pace with the demands being made on it.

Although efficient water management would enable rich parts of the world to cope, poorer countries would suffer massively, it said.

By 2025, Tearfund says, the volume of water needed to produce food is expected to have increased by at least 50%, because of population growth and the demand for higher living standards.

Tearfund claims the growth of water shortages threatens to reduce the global food supply by more than 10%.

Agriculture already takes more than 70% of the world's fresh water, with the proportion rising to more than 90% in Asia and Africa.

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See also:

22 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
World warned on water refugees
22 Mar 01 | Europe
Spain debates water pumping plan
13 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Water arithmetic 'doesn't add up'
15 Mar 00 | Middle East
Water wars: Part l - The Middle East
09 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Water wars and peace
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