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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 16:50 GMT
South Asia's water problems
Man washing in river
Around 80% of India's population still live in unsanitary conditions
The UN says that many of the 3bn people throughout the world who have no access to proper sanitation and clean water are from South Asia.

The report says that the water problems facing India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are worse only in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN says that while the quality of India's water supplies has improved in recent years, around 80% of the population of 800m still live in what it describes as unsanitary conditions.

Hygiene

According to the report, that is principally because most people do not have access to hygienic lavatories and are forced to defecate in the open.

The report says that this deplorable lack of sanitation is responsible for severe health problems, and leads to outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis.

In an interview with the BBC, the World Health Organisation spokesman Brian Appleton said that the problems of rural India were replicated in non-urban areas of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Community effort

He says that the problem is best tackled by encouraging individual householders and local community organisations to provide water sanitation projects instead of governments and aid agencies.

It cites the Indian state of Gujarat as an example where this has happened: a grant of $5,000 was given to the local authorities to draw up a plan that included hygiene education and separate lavatories for boys and girls in schools.

Women carrying water
Local water projects are best, says UN
The UN report says that the introduction of low-cost toilets that use less water than flush models was one way of tackling problems of poor sanitation.

The UN says that other initiatives are also being carried out, including the introduction of dehydration salts which it says have halved the number of children who die from diarrhoea.

The World Health Organisation says that its also encouraging developing countries to provide more portable water supplies, and is urging governments to regulate the use of pesticides so that water is not contaminated by chemicals.

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