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article imageUN: Unsafe water more deadly than war

By Chris Dade     Mar 23, 2010 in Environment
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that more people are dying in the world because they are unable to access safe water than compared to those who die as a result of war and other forms of violence.
Speaking in New York on the date his organization decided back in the 90s should be known each year as World Water Day Mr Ban is quoted as saying of the lives being lost because of the lack of safe water:These deaths are an affront to our common humanity, and undermine the efforts of many countries to achieve their development potential.
Our growing population’s need for water for food, raw materials and energy is increasingly competing with nature’s own demands for water to sustain already imperilled ecosystems and the services on which we depend.
Day after day, we pour millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural waste into the world’s water systems. Clean water has become scarce and will become even scarcer with the onset of climate change
Mr Ban's comments came on the same day as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report - generally referred to in the media as Sick Water? but which has the full title Sick Water?: The Central Role of Wastewater Management in Sustainable Development. It confirms how many people are dying each year due to unsafe/unclean water.
The report states thatsome two million tons of waste, estimated to equal two or more billion tons of wastewater, is being discharged daily into rivers and seas spreading disease to humans and damaging key ecosystems such as coral reefs and fisheries.
The UNEP report goes on to define wastewater as "a cocktail of fertilizer run-off and sewage disposal alongside animal, industrial, agricultural and other wastes" and say that in fact:many of the substances that make wastewater a pollutant - for example nitrogen and phosphorus - can also be useful as fertilizers for agriculture. Wastewater can also generate gases to fuel small power stations or be used for cooking
Presently just 10 percent of the world's population are utilizing wastewater for either irrigation or fertilization and the aim is to increase that percentage "substantially".
In terms of the actual number of deaths caused by the fact that in developing countries 90 percent of daily wastewater discharges are untreated, CNN indicates that the UNEP report attributes 2.2 million deaths each year to diseases caused by both unsafe drinking water and lack of proper hygiene.
A minimum of 1.8 million children under the age of five die each year because they cannot access clean water, which NDTV/Press Trust of India notes UNEP equates to one death every 20 seconds.
At the halfway point of the International Decade For Action Water For Life 2005-2015 70 percent of those suffering from poor sanitation live in rural areas.
A man drinks water in Gaza
In Gaza Strip, residents face a major water shortage during the Israeli attacks
Photo by Sameh A. Habeeb
But with the population of the world expected to grow from the current six billion to nine billion by 2050 - and the urban population due to grow at a faster rate than that found in rural areas - the inadequacy of the sewage systems found in many cities is set to become even more pronounced.
According to CNN UNEP asserts that investment is needed to address many of the infrastructural problems that prevent people from obtaining clean water.
However more money is not necessarily always the answer; it is believed that educating populations "to ensure water, nutrients and future opportunities for employment and development are not wasted" can often be the solution.
While obtaining a more recent figure for the number of deaths caused each year by acts of violence, including war, proved difficult - to enable a comparison with the number of deaths linked to a lack of clean water - a World Health Organisation (WHO) report from 2002 calculated that "More than 1.6m people die each year from homicide, suicide, war and other "intentional injuries".
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