Water crisis is now 'one of the greatest causes of mass suffering'

A A A

Governments are losing the fight to tackle the world's water crisis, now one of the greatest causes of mass suffering, a leading aid agency alleged yesterday.

The situation, which sees 1.1 billion people with no access to safe water and 2.6 billion people without basic sanitation, is steadily getting worse, in spite of a major pledge by the international community to improve it, according to the UK relief and development agency Tearfund.

The UN's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to "halve by 2015 the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation" is in danger of becoming no more than a pipe dream, the agency said in a report released for World Water Day, which falls today.

As the report was issued the seriousness of the water crisis was re-emphasised with new figures suggesting that five million people in Kenya are now facing food shortages as as result of failed rains. The drought in northern and north-eastern Kenya has also affected areas of Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Tanzania and Burundi, leaving more than 11.5 million people in need of food aid in the next six months.

The Tearfund report says that international aid, from the European Union especially, is failing to keep pace with the worsening water stress hitting a growing numbers of countries.

"Governments are failing to tackle a crisis in which a child dies from dehydration from diarrhoea every 14 seconds. Half the world's hospital beds are taken up by people with water-borne diseases," the report says.

"Over the past decade, aid for water and sanitation from EU member governments has been falling, despite 6,000 children dying every day from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water.

"Since the MDG was agreed, EU aid to water and sanitation has declined and a smaller percentage of it now goes to sub-Saharan Africa. In 1997, EU Member States gave an average of $126m (£72m) to address the global water crisis. Today, they give on average $94m."

The report alleges that the EU Water Initiative, launched in 2002 to coordinate and improve the EU response to the crisis, "has not changed any policy or practice to help one single person have access to water and sanitation."

It adds that money needed to meet the water and sanitation MDG - $15bn - is "a small proportion of the $100bn that is spent each year on bottled water, mainly as a fashion accessory."

The report says that the UK and other governments have failed to prioritise aid for water and sanitation in the way they have for health and education, even though diarrhoeal diseases cause 443 million school days to be lost each year.

Is says that between 2000 and 2004 the UK government gave an average of $327m a year to health, compared to $86m to water and sanitation. Furthermore, more aid for water and sanitation in poor countries is given as loans than as grants - pushing heavily indebted countries deeper into debt.

In 2002, governments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development recommitted to have plans for managing water resources in place by 2005.

Tearfund says: "This date has passed and only 12 per cent of countries have met the target. Add climate change and global warming into the equation, and even developed countries start to feel the heat."

The agency calls on rich country governments to commit to doubling aid to water and sanitation by 2010, focusing 70 per cent of this aid on the poorest countries and giving particular emphasis to sanitation and hygiene promotion. It says all aid for water and sanitation in the poorest countries should be given as grants not loans.

Another major report issued yesterday, the UN-led Global International Waters Assessment, said that the overuse of water for farming is the biggest environmental threat to the world's freshwater resources, and damage is likely to worsen until 2020.

The report said that more dams and deeper wells were not the answer. It said, for instance, that dams on the Volga River had reduced the spawning grounds for Caspian sturgeon, and 90 per cent of the water in Namibia's Eastern National Water Carrier canal was lost because of evaporation.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner & Wood Machinist

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This busy local Joinery company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence