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New WHO report raises alarm on dirty water

The World Health Organization says nearly two billion people on the planet do not have access to clear drinking water. The new report urges considerable increases in revenue to meet the growing demand for clean water.

More than one in four people on the planet are drinking fecal-contaminated water, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The agency said Thursday that dramatic improvements are needed to ensure people around the world have access to clean water.

The WHO wants to see large-scale investments to ensure people everywhere have clean drinking water. The agency said hundreds of thousands of people die each year because they are forced to drink contaminated water.

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Safe water for everyone

"Today, almost two billion people use a source of drinking-water contaminated with feces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio," Maria Neira, who head's the WHO's public health department, said in a statement.

"Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause more than 500,000 diarrheal deaths each year and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma," she added.

The UN General Assembly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 - a series of aspirational targets for eliminating poverty and boosting human wellbeing - including vowing to ensure universal access to safe and affordable water and sanitation by 2030.

But the latest WHO report, known as the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water, or GLAAS, says countries will fall far short of this goal if they do not radically increase their investments.

Finance and basic information

The funding gap is vast, with 147 countries having previously demonstrated the ability to mobilize the resources required to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people without an improved source of water.

The report welcomed the fact that countries had on average raised their annual budgets for water, sanitation and hygiene by nearly 5 percent over the past three years.

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But 80 percent of countries acknowledge that their finances are not enough to meet their nationally-set targets for increasing access to safe water and sanitation.

"In many developing countries, current national coverage targets are based on achieving access to basic infrastructure, which may not always provide continuously safe and reliable services," the WHO warned in a statement.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has estimated that investments in infrastructure will need to triple to $114 billion per year - not including operating and maintenance costs - in order to meet the SDG targets.

"This is a challenge we have the ability to solve," said Guy Ryder, Chairman of UN-Water and head of the International Labor Organization.

"Increased investments in water and sanitation", he said, "can yield substantial benefits for human health and development, generate employment and make sure that we leave no one behind."

bik/rc (AFP, WHO)

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