International Year of Freshwater 2003
“No single measure would do more to reduce
disease and save lives in the developing world than bringing
safe water and adequate sanitation to all.”
- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
is the International Year of Freshwater
In recognition of the central importance
of water resources to the planet’s future, the United Nations
General Assembly proclaimed the year 2003 as the International
Year of Freshwater.
1.1 billion people lack access to safe water,
roughly one-sixth of the world’s population, and 2.4 billion
or 40 per cent of the world’s people lack access to adequate
Some 6,000 children die every day from diseases
associated with unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene
– equivalent to 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.
Unsafe water and sanitation cause an estimated
80 per cent of all diseases in the developing world.
Women and girls tend to suffer the most as
a result of the lack of sanitation facilities.
One flush of a Western toilet uses as much
water as the average person in the developing world uses for
a whole day’s washing, drinking, cleaning and cooking.
Water use has grown at twice the rate of population
during the past century. The Middle East, North Africa and
South Asia are chronically short of water.
In developing countries, as much as 90 per
cent of waste water is discharged without treatment.
Overpumping groundwater for drinking water
and irrigation has caused water levels to decline by tens
of metres in many regions, forcing people to use low-quality
water for drinking.
Losses of water through leakage, illegal hook-ups
and waste amount to about 50 per cent of water for drinking
and 60 per cent of water for irrigation in developing countries.
Floods affected more than 75 per cent of all
people impacted by natural disasters during the 1990s and
caused over 33 per cent of the total estimated costs of natural
“Water is probably
the only natural resource to touch all aspects of human civilization
—from agricultural and industrial development to the cultural
and religious values embedded in society.”
- Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General,
Freshwater: A precious commodity
Freshwater is the single most precious element
for life on earth. It is essential for satisfying basic human
needs, health, food production, energy and maintenance of
regional and global ecosystems. Although 70 per cent of the
world’s surface is covered by water, only a fraction of that
— 2.5 per cent — is freshwater, of which 70 per cent is frozen
in ice caps. The remainder is present as soil moisture. This
leaves less than one per cent of the world’s freshwater resources
accessible for human use.
- - - - - - -
Global water availability)
If present consumption
patterns continue, two out of every three persons on Earth
will live in water-stressed conditions —moderate or severe
water shortages— by the year 2025.
- - - - - - -
Get involved: Use water wisely!
The International Year
of Freshwater provides the world community an opportunity
to raise awareness, promote good practice, motivate people
and mobilize resources in order to meet basic human needs
and manage water in a sustainable way.
Link your activities
to the www.wateryear2003.org website. The website will be
used as an interactive site to exchange information and activities
taking place at the international, regional and national levels.
“The plight of the
world’s poor cannot be alleviated without addressing the quality
of the resource base upon which they depend – land and water
resources. The improvement of water use is central for all
of the other dimensions of sustainable development.”
- Nitin Desai, Secretary-General of
the World Summit on Sustainable Development
What needs to be done?
Several strong targets
have been set to spur action and guide the way forward. World
leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit agreed to
halve by 2015 the proportion of people without access to safe
drinking water. At the 2002 Johannesburg Summit, they reaffirmed
that commitment and added a corresponding target to halve
the proportion of people lacking access to basic sanitation
by the same year. They also agreed to develop national water
management and efficiency plans by 2005.
To reach these goals
is a huge endeavour, requiring substantial resources and coordinated
action, not just from governments but also from people who
use water and those who invest in this precious resource,
especially at the national level. Needed actions include:
Changing behaviours in water use, sanitation
Mobilizing the energy and participation of
communities, particularly women’s groups;
Setting national targets and plans to generate
Putting in place policies and regulatory frameworks
for water management that take into account both public health
and ecosystem needs;
Forming partnerships between private companies,
bilateral donors, development agencies, banks, civil society
and local communities.
There is encouraging news. In Johannesburg,
over twenty water and sanitation partnership initiatives —
committing over one billion dollars in resources — were announced
by governments, international agencies and banks, non-governmental
organizations and private partners. Now we must keep up the
momentum to reach the goals and make the best use of our water
For further information, please contact:
Division for Sustainable Development
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
2 United Nations Plaza, DC2 - 2020
New York, NY 10017, U.S.A
World Water Assessment Programme,
c/o UNESCO, Division of Water Sciences, Room B6.25
1 rue Miollis, 75015 Paris, FRANCE
Tel: +33 1 45683904; Fax: +33 1 45685829
United Nations Department of Public Information
Photo credits: FAO, UNEP, UNICEF and Swynk
Published by the United Nations Department
of Public Information