The theme of World Habitat Day 2003 — “Water and Sanitation for Cities” — highlights the need to provide the urban poor with clean water and decent sanitation.
In a rapidly urbanizing world, where already half of the world’s population lives in cities and towns, at least 1 billion people suffer from the dangers and indignities associated with the lack of clean water and adequate sanitation. In Africa, as many as 150 million residents, or 50 per cent of the urban population, do not have adequate supplies of water, while 180 million lack adequate sanitation. In urban Asia, 700 million people, again half the urban population, lack clean water, and 800 million are without adequate sanitation. In Latin America, the figures are 120 million and 150 million respectively. Everywhere, poor people tend to pay much more than the rich for water. Moreover, many governments, international financial institutions and aid agencies have concentrated their efforts on rural areas, assuming that the poor in cities are comparatively privileged when it comes to the provision of water and sanitation, whereas it is becoming increasingly clear that the number of inadequately served urban dwellers is much higher than officially acknowledged.
Increased investment is critical, whether small-scale projects at the local level or national efforts to build up essential infrastructure. Community participation, good governance and public-private partnerships are equally important. And since as much as 50 per cent of a developing country’s urban water supply can be wasted through leakage or poor administration, greater emphasis must be placed on management strategies, which can increase efficiency, improve maintenance and, through better billing systems, raise the income of local authorities. To be truly equitable, water management strategies and practices must extend to the national and regional level, and encompass all water users, including agriculture, which accounts for more than three-quarters of all freshwater consumption.
Cities and towns have always been centres of opportunity, but without adequate shelter and basic services, urban environments can be among the most lifethreatening on Earth. In agreeing on the Millennium Development Goals, Governments pledged to halve the number of people without clean water and decent sanitation by 2015, and to improve the living conditions of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. On World Habitat Day, let us all pledge to do our part to ensure adequate sanitation and clean water for all the inhabitants of the world’s cities.