UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, raised the alarm over the one billion people, many of them in urban areas, who do not have access to safe water. She appealed for urgent action to improve provision for water to the urban poor.
The urban poor get their water by queuing for hours to collect water from standpipes or illegal connections. Others buy their water from vendors who can charge up to twenty times more for water than the price paid by their wealthier neighbours. Not only do the poor suffer financially; they also suffer poor health from using unsafe water and poor sanitation facilities. At any one time, close to half the population in Africa, Asia and Latin America suffer from one or more of the main diseases associated with inadequate water and sanitation.
By the year 2015, nearly 60 per cent of the world’s population will make cities their home. Meeting the rapidly growing urban demand for safe water will be a daunting challenge. Not only are the numbers of people who need better water supplies very large, water itself is becoming scarcer. Though an estimated 1.2 billion people have gained access to safe water since 1990, there are over one billion people worldwide living without clean, safe drinking water.
UN-HABITAT’s 2006 global report on Water and Sanitation in the World’s Cities - Local Action for Global Goals, notes that inadequate water supply is not mainly due to a lack of governments funds. Indeed, in many cities and smaller urban centres, it is possible to improve provision of water in low income settlements while charging their inhabitants less than they currently pay for inadequate provision.
Poor urban dwellers, like everyone else, want reliable, sustainable water systems that are affordable yet well managed, well financed and well maintained. UN-HABITAT works with governments, regional development banks and other finance institutions civil society, local authorities and the private sector to mobilise funds and find local solutions to water problems. The agency promotes better urban governance to ensure efficient, inclusive supply and management of water and sanitation infrastructure in cities, and advocates an integrated water resource management approach to improve access to urban water.
Under its Water, Sanitation and Infrastructure Trust Fund, the agency coordinates two main sub-programmes, Water for Asian Cities and Water for African Cities, to help countries apply the integrated water resource management approach to overcome the many problems that arise from uncoordinated use and abuse of increasingly scare water resources. The approach seeks to minimise urban water waste through water leakage reduction, and education and awareness raising campaigns on how to use water more efficiently.
Projects to improve water and sanitation facilities are under way in over 20 countries under this programme. In the Mekong Region, for instance, the Water and Sanitation Programme is undertaking a community based water supply project in Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The project seeks to demonstrate the effectiveness of a community based approach in acquiring safe water. It is expected that 100 per cent of the households covered by the project will receive piped water once the project is finalised from a base of zero.
It is through such initiatives that we hope to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of halving by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.