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Environment

Stockholm conference tackles global water crisis

A major conference aimed at improving worldwide access to clean water opens in Sweden today. World Water Week, which has run since 1991, will award this year's Stockholm Water Prize to cholera researcher Rita Colwell.

Boy drinking from water pipe in Bangladesh

1.5 million children die each year due to contaminated water

The 20th annual World Water Week conference focuses on how to better help the 884 million people worldwide who do not have access to clean drinking water.

"Driven by demographic change and economic growth, water is increasingly withdrawn, used, reused, treated, and disposed of," organizers cautioned in their introduction to this year's conference.

"Urbanization, agriculture, industry and climate change exert mounting pressure on both the quantity and quality of our water resources," they added in a statement on the conference website.

It is expected that more than 2,500 experts, decision-makers and business innovators will attend the event to discuss the escalating global water crisis.

In the build-up to this year's event, UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, has drawn particular attention to the 1.5 million children who die each year from diseases related to contaminated water and poor hygiene.

The Stockholm Water Prize

People queuing for water in Bangladesh

Access to clean water is essential for tackling world poverty, says the SIWI

The symposium in the Swedish capital is put together by the Stockholm Water Institute (SIWI), the organization which also awards an annual prize worth $150,000 (116,000 euros) to recognize achievements in water science, water management, action or awareness building.

The recipient of the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize is the US researcher Rita Colwell, known for her work on infectious waterborne diseases like cholera.

Colwell has been praised for her "pioneering research" which identified that the cholera bacteria could survive by attaching to zooplankton in rivers, lakes and oceans. It was previously thought that cholera could break out only due to release of sewage, but scientists now know that certain changes in the natural environment can also spread the disease.

Cholera is estimated to cause some 120,000 deaths each year and infects 3 to 5 million people. SIWI said Colwell's work had "helped protect the health and lives of millions."

The water crisis

Academics and water and sanitation NGOs argue that access to water is central to alleviating poverty, improving worldwide health standards and security.

Woman carrying water canister on her head

884 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water

Speaking at the United Nations' High-Level Interactive Dialogue on Water last March, Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose-Migiro said "access to clean water and adequate sanitation are a pre-requisite for lifting people out of poverty."

The UN has been accused of marginalizing water and sanitation issues in its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at improving the lives of billions in the developing world.

Anders Berntell from SIWI told the Inter Press news agency that water has not received proper attention, yet is integral to fulfilling MDGs such as reducing extreme poverty and hunger by 50 percent by 2015.

"Without water, we can never fight hunger; without toilets in schools, girls will continue to drop out before finalizing their education; and without adequate sanitation and hygiene, diseases will continue to spread," Berntell said.

The World Water Week conference runs until September 11.

Author: Catherine Bolsover (dpa/AP/IPS/AFP)
Editor: Toma Tasovac

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