The Group of Eight (G-8) developed nations should spearhead an urgent global action plan to resolve the world’s growing water and sanitation crisis, which causes nearly two million child deaths every year and holds back countries’ development, especially in Africa, according to the 2006 Human Development Report released today by the United Nations.
Across much of the developing world, unclean water is an immeasurably greater threat to human security than violent conflict, warns the UN Development Programme (UNDP) report, entitled Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis.
“National governments need to draw up credible plans and strategies for tackling the crisis in water and sanitation. But we also need a Global Action Plan – with active buy-in from the G-8 countries – to focus fragmented international efforts to mobilize resources and galvanize political action by putting water and sanitation front and centre on the development agenda,” says Kevin Watkins, lead author of the report.
“When it comes to water and sanitation, the world suffers from a surplus of conference activity and a deficit of credible action. The diversity of international actors has militated against the development of strong international champions for water and sanitation,” adds Mr. Watkins, who is also the head of the UNDP’s Human Development Report Office.
Each year, the authors report, 1.8 million children die from diarrhoea that could be prevented with access to clean water and a toilet; 443 million school days are lost to water-related illnesses; and almost 50 per cent of all people in developing countries are suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by a lack of water and sanitation.
To add to these human costs, the crisis in water and sanitation holds back economic growth, with sub-Saharan Africa losing 5 per cent of GDP annually – far more than the region receives in aid, the report states, adding however that unlike wars and natural disasters, this global crisis does not galvanize concerted international action.
“Like hunger, it is a silent emergency experienced by the poor and tolerated by those with the resources, the technology and the political power to end it,” the report says, warning that with less than a decade left to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) this needs to change. The MDGs are a set of ambitious targets agreed by world leaders in 2000 that seek to reduce extreme poverty, hunger and other social ills all by 2015.
“I fully support the call for a Global Action Plan to tackle the growing water and sanitation crisis,” said UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. “As the 2006 Human Development Report highlights, each one of the eight Millennium Development Goals is inextricably tied to the next, so if we fail on the water and sanitation goal, hope of reaching the other seven rapidly fades.
“Either we take concerted action now to bring clean water and sanitation to the world’s poor, or we consign millions of people to lives of avoidable poverty, poor health and diminished opportunities, and perpetuate deep inequalities within and between countries. And we have a collective responsibility to succeed,” he said.
As well as creating a Global Action Plan, the report also recommends the following as crucial to dealing with the crisis:
· Make water a human right – and mean it: “Everyone should have at least 20 litres of clean water per day and the poor should get it for free,” says the report.
· Draw up national strategies for water and sanitation: Governments should aim to spend a minimum of one per cent GDP on water and sanitation, and enhance equity. Water and sanitation suffer from chronic under-funding, with public spending typically less than 0.5 per cent of GDP. Research for the report shows that this figure is dwarfed by military spending. For example, in Ethiopia, the military budget is 10 times the water and sanitation budget – in Pakistan, 47 times.
· Increase international aid: The report calls for an extra $3.4 billion to $4 billion annually: Development assistance has fallen in real terms over the past decade, but to bring the MDG on water and sanitation into reach, aid flows will have to double, it says.
The report estimates the total additional cost of achieving the MDG on access to water and sanitation – to be sourced domestically and internationally – at about $10 billion a year. “The $10 billion price tag for the MDG seems a large sum – but it has to be put in context. It represents less than five days’ worth of global military spending and less than half what rich countries spend each year on mineral water,” it says.