World Thirsty for Clean Water

Extract From http://www.idrc.ca

Canada has the expertise to help, says Dr. Albert Schumacher Water has been described as “the oil of the 21st century,” a scarce commodity that will be a source of conflict between peoples and nations. Seem farfetched? Consider this: According to United Nations estimates, there are currently 1.2 billion people in the world who do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion who lack proper sanitation facilities. Because of the shortage of safe drinking water in much of the world, there are 3.3 million deaths every year from diarrheal diseases caused by e-coli, salmonella and cholera bacterial infections, parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium, and viral pathogens like rotavirus. In fact, in the developing world, 80 per cent of illnesses are water-related.

This is difficult for many Canadians to grasp. After all, Canada is blessed with an abundance of safe water. We are third in the world, behind only Brazil and Russia, for our supply of renewable fresh water. We have had serious drinking water concerns in places like Walkerton, Ont., and North Battleford, Sask., but nothing to match the international situation.

By 2025, the U.N. estimates that some 3 billion people will suffer the effects of water shortages. Consider that between 1990 and 1995, global water consumption rose six-fold, which is more than double the rate of population growth. This is due in part to industrial demand; for example, it takes 300 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of paper, and 215,000 litres of water to produce one metric tonne of steel. Changes in our diet also are driving water consumption. It takes 15,000 tonnes of water to produce a tonne of beef, while a tonne of grain only requires 1,000 tonnes of water. As nations like China, India and Mexico continue their rapid industrialization and catch up with the developed world, this consumption will only increase. As a result of over-consumption and depletion of its water table, Beijing is sinking into the ground at the rate of 10 centimetres per year. Certain barrios in Mexico City sink as much as 30 centimetres a year.

Later this month, the United Nations will launch its “International Decade for Action” to focus on the need for safe drinking water around the world. The campaign is appropriately named “Water for Life.” We should not need a U.N. declaration that water is an essential human right in order to motivate us; we must take what we have learned and share our expertise with the developing world. Fortunately, we have an excellent example of what form this assistance could take in the recent DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) mission
>to South Asia, which did so much in Sri Lanka. The DART operation has the capability of producing 150,000 to 200,000 litres of safe drinking water a day. DART uses a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU), an advanced water treatment system capable of purifying any water source found in the world. Canada could use this technology to make bringing safe drinking water to the developing world the priority of our international development efforts, addressing one of today’s most pressing health questions.

We are just weeks away from World Water Day on March 22, when the U.N.’s International Decade for Action begins. Canadians should take advantage of this unique moment to write to the Prime Minister and encourage him to embrace a “big idea”: Canada bringing safe drinking water to the developing world. We in Canada are fortunate to have the ability and the resources to help our neighbours in the rest of the world. Let us use our expertise to make this world a better, safer, healthier place, for all peoples.

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