Sunday, November 12, 2006

Global Water Crisis

United Nations 2006 Human Development Report, Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis
U.N. Urged End to ‘Water Apartheid’

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released its 2006 Human Development Report, a product of research and analysis by international experts and staff across the U.N. system. This year’s report focuses on water as a key part of human development, specifically, on access to clean water and on the ability of societies to harness the potential of water as a productive resource. The UNCP report says that when it comes to water, there is a growing recognition that the world faces a crisis that, left unchecked, will derail progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and hold back human development.

The report argues that poverty, power and inequality are at the heart of the problem. The report (1) investigates the underlying causes and consequences of a crisis that leaves 1.2 billion people without access to safe water and 2.6 billion without access to sanitation; (2) argues for a concerted drive to achieve water and sanitation for all through national strategies and a global plan of action; (3) examines the social and economic forces that are driving water shortages and marginalizing the poor in agriculture; and (4) looks at the scope for international cooperation to resolve cross-border tensions in water management.

According to the report, water-borne diseases such as diarrhea kill far more people, particularly children, than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. In addition, the report finds that sub-Saharan Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world in the provision of basic services. The report finds that in addition to the costs of disease and life, the time spent collecting water has other economic effects. The report calculates that the cost to Africa is equivalent to about 5% of the continent’s economic growth, about the same amount of growth as is generated by money received in aid.

While the UNDP does not see the prospect of “water wars” as serious, it does warn of severe consequences if there is not a major strategic plan for water use across country borders, especially as climate changes reduce the capacity of the poorest countries to grow food for themselves.

The report highlights several problems. First, few countries treat water and sanitation as a political priority, as witnessed by limited budget allocations. Second, some of the world’s poorest people are paying some of the world’s highest prices for water, reflecting the limited coverage of water utilities in the slums and informal settlements where poor people live. Third, the international community has failed to prioritize water and sanitation in the partnerships for development that have formed around the MDGs. Underlying each of these problems is the fact that the people suffering most from the water and sanitation crisis – poor people in general and poor women in particular – often lack the political voice needed to assert their claims to water.

Question: Will debate and dialogue around this issue have a profound bearing on the progress towards achieving the MDGs and human development?

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