UN launches International Year of Freshwater 2003

Posted: 10 January 2003

The International Year of Freshwater 2003 was launched in December 2002 at a special event at the United Nations. The Year was declared by the UN General Assembly to galvanize action on the critical water problems the world faces.

"Lack of access to water - for drinking, hygiene and food security - inflicts enormous hardship on more than a billion members of the human family," said United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Water is likely to become a growing source of tension and fierce competition between nations, if present trends continue, but it can also be a catalyst for cooperation. The International Year of Freshwater can play a vital role in generating the action needed..."

Agreement on targets

The International Year follows recent agreement on key targets to tackle water and sanitation problems for the 1.2 billion people without access to safe drinking water and the 2.4 billion people who lack proper sanitation. More than 3 million people die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water.

In September 2000, world leaders pledged at the Millennium Summit to halve by 2015 the proportion of people unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water. And at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, a matching target was agreed to halve the proportion of people lacking adequate sanitation by the same date.

Currently it is estimated that approximately $30 billion per year is spent on meeting drinking water supply and sanitation requirements worldwide. An estimated $14 to $30 billion additional per year would be needed to meet the agreed water and sanitation targets.

Thanks to gains in the 1990s, 63 countries are on track to reach the target on access to water. But in sub-Saharan Africa, only 58 per cent of the population have access to improved water sources. In the poorest, least developed countries, no improvement in the proportion of people with access to water was made over the decade.

Water scarcity is also a critical issue for future development. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population growth during the 20th century. A number of regions, such as the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, are chronically water-short. Already, four out of every ten people worldwide live in areas experiencing water scarcity.

By 2025, as much as two thirds of the world's population - an estimated 5.5 billion people - may be living in countries that face a serious shortage of water.

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International Year of Freshwater 2003