Access to clean water down due to urbanisation: UN

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Global efforts to improve access to drinking water have been hampered by rapid urbanisation, with the proportion of people in urban areas with access actually declining, according to UN figures presented at a conference in Stockholm this week.

"In cities, there are today more people suffering from a poor and unsatisfactory access to safe water and sanitation than at the end of the 20th century," Gerard Payen, who heads up the International Federation of Private Water Operators (AquaFed), said in a statement presenting the UN data at the World Water Week in the Swedish capital.

The United Nations General Assembly recognised access to safe drinking water as a human right this past July, and in recent decades, global efforts had helped hundreds of millions of people gain access to the basic necessity.

Countering these positive trends however is the massive population growth seen around the globe.

Between 2000 and 2008, the world's population increased by 635 million people, 80 percent of whom live in urban areas, according to UN numbers.

"In the urban half of the world, despite having provided access to water or sanitation services to hundreds of millions of additional people, the current policies have been unable to prevent the situation worsening," AquaFed said.

"The proportion of the urban population that benefits from satisfactory access to drinking water or sanitation is decreasing," it said, pointing to UN statistics showing that 114 million more people went without access to tapwater at home or in the immediate vicinity at the end of the eight-year-period.

At the same time, 134 million more people went without access to basic sanitation, the group said, pointing out that in both cases there had been a 20 percent hike of urban dwellers lacking access.

"Current efforts to develop access to water and sanitation in cities are outpaced by urbanisation," Payen said.

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