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EDITORIAL – Clean water for a healthy world

March 22, 2010

(The Philippine Star) Updated March 22, 2010 12:00 AM

World Water Day is marked today with approximately 884 million people, most of them in Africa, living without access to safe drinking water. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates that over 2.5 billion people worldwide live without proper sanitation. About 1.5 million children under five die of water-borne diseases every year, according to UNESCO, which described the situation as “an unspeakable human tragedy” and a major obstacle to development.

This year’s theme for World Water Day is “clean water for a healthy world.” For millions of people, clean water is a luxury beyond their reach. The problem has been aggravated by pollution and the destruction of forests and wetlands. In a statement, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity emphasized that the economic value of clean water is greater than the economic gains from clearing forests and wetlands. UNESCO also pointed out that water-borne diseases added to the financial hardships of the poor, lowered the odds of educating poor children and reduced the chances of breaking the cycle of poverty.

The Philippines, which lags behind many countries in human development indicators, is among those suffering from the problem of insufficient public access to safe water. At the height of the scare over the A(H1N1) flu last year, health experts said an effective way of preventing the spread of the deadly virus was the simple act of washing hands regularly with soap and water. Educators then pointed out that in several public schools, there was no piped water for hand washing.

UNESCO expressed concern that in these times of economic difficulties, cost cutting could include investments in clean water. The UN body stressed that achieving the Millennium Development Goals for access to safe water and sanitation would mean global savings amounting to over $84 billion. Those savings, plus the number of lives that can be saved every year through the provision of clean water should spur governments to put this issue on their list of priorities.

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