Water is the lifeblood of every community around the world. But a sustainable, clean supply for drinking, hygiene and agriculture is not guaranteed for hundreds of millions of people, according to figures from the United Nations.
From droughts choking once-dependent resources to destructive downpours and floods, what the world is doing about its water woes is the central question at the UN’s three-day water conference that began Wednesday. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of World Water Day, it is the first UN special conference on water in nearly 50 years.
Climate change, pollution and waste have exacerbated water concerns by straining the Earth’s resources. Some stocks have dwindled due to lack of rain, with dry spells often lasting months, if not years, in some places. Others have had essential supplies contaminated by chemicals or toxins from human activity.
A severe winter drought in southern Europe left the reservoirs so barren that officials move fish to survive. Due to the dry weather and lack of infrastructure in Kenya, many people collect water from local hubs to collect enough. Peruvian workers must treat water contaminated with detritus from abandoned mines, bacteria and waste. Washing machines rely on India’s Brahmaputra River for cleaning clothes, despite the threat of seasonal flooding.
Some countries that have been exposed to too much or too little water have already found ways to keep it flowing in the amounts needed. In the Netherlands, where about a third of the land is below sea level, wind pumps prevent areas from being flooded.
A report released on the eve of the UN conference on water in more than 45 years says that 26 percent of the world’s population lacks access to safe drinking water and 46 percent lack access to basic sanitation.
Delegates attending the conference in New York will agree Friday on an agenda aimed at achieving a goal of readily available, sustainably managed water and sanitation for everyone around the world.