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UN warns of growing fatalities from contaminated water

UN report says 5.3 million people die each year from diseases caused by unsafe water and warns that unless action is taken, numbers will rise sharply.

The report, released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN University to mark World Day for Water next Monday, said clean, safe water could be brought to 1.4 billion people around the world, who currently have no access to it, for as little as US $50 per person. In addition to preventing deaths, it would also prevent many of the 3.35 billion cases of illness caused by contaminated water.

Currently 20 percent of the world’s population in 30 countries face water shortages, a figure that will rise to 30 percent in 50 countries by 2025.

To illustrate the extent of the water crisis, the report noted that every eight seconds a child dies from a water-related disease and that 80 percent of diseases in the developing world are caused by contaminated water.

“Not only is the toll a human tragedy, but it means these people are less able to carry on productive lives, and this undermines social and economic development,” UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said.

The report warned that the consequences of increasing global water scarcity would largely be felt in arid and semi-arid aeas, in rapidly growing coastal regions and in the mega-cities of the developing world.

“Common sense tells us that national tensions over water could jump perilously,” said Dr Hans van Ginkel, rector of the UN University. “Conflicts over water, both international and civil wars, threaten to become a key part of the 21st century landscape.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, meanwhile, focused on the dangerous spread of cholera in Africa and urged greater efforts to halt it.

In a news release issued on Friday, it called for a more equitable distribution of water. “Africa’s poor pay far more for it than the rich, and make do with much less,” the Federation noted.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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