Canadian Consulting Engineer

UN urges making water a human right – estimates cost at $10 billion

November 17, 2006
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

The authors of a United Nations report have said that the lack of clean water and sanitation is a much greater real...

The authors of a United Nations report have said that the lack of clean water and sanitation is a much greater real and present danger to the world population than terrorism.
They also lambasted the lack of real action to improve the situation, even though there are numerous conferences and speeches given on the subject. “When it comes to water and sanitation, the world suffers from a surplus of conference activity and a deficit of credible action,” said Kevin Watkins, lead author of the U.N. Human Development report when it was released November 9.
The report is entitled “Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis.” Its researchers say poor sanitation and no access to clean water causes nearly two million child deaths every year. It also holds back countries’ development, especially in Africa.
The authors pointed the finger at the Group of Eight (G-8) developed nations, and said they should spearhead a global action plan to resolve the problem.
“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,” said Watkins.
As well as creating a Global Action Plan, the report recommends:
1. 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.”
2. Governments should aim to spend a minimum of one per cent GDP on water and sanitation. At present, public spending is 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.
3. Increase international aid for water and sanitation by an extra $3.4 billion to $4 billion annually. Aid flows will have to double, the report says.
The report estimates the additional cost of achieving the Millennium Development Goals to address to water and sanitation to be sourced domestically and internationally at about $10 billion a year.
The authors emphasized that the $10 billion price tag is nothing when put in context with other spendings: “It represents less than five days’ worth of global military spending and less than half what rich countries spend each year on mineral water.”


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