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Environment

Urbanization hampers access to drinking water

Global efforts to improve access to drinking water have been hindered by rapid urbanization, according to data presented at World Water Week in Stockholm. The percentage of people in urban areas with access is declining.

A water tap in a concrete wall

Clean water isn't always flowing from the taps - even in cities

Lack of access to clean sources of water remains a major problem is much of the world, said Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

"Bad water kills more people than HIV, malaria and wars together, affecting the lives of families and the economic development of many countries around the world," he said at the World Water Week conference being held in the Swedish capital.

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that within the next 15 years, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with acute water scarcity, and that two-thirds of the world's population could be facing shortages.

Thirsty cities

Ripples from drops of water in a larger pool

Many people in cities lack the clean water they need

While the plight of those in dry, rural areas has long been examined by development aid and the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), people in urban areas also suffer from lack of access to water, according to Gerard Payen, who heads the International Federation of Private Water Operators (AquaFed).

"In cities, there are today more people suffering from a poor and unsatisfactory access to safe water and sanitation than at the end of the 20th century," Payen said in a statement.

Access to safe drinking water was recognized as a human right by the United Nations General Assembly in July, yet the UN, together with NGOs and individual governments, has struggled for decades to get potable water to hundreds of millions of people worldwide who lack water and basic sanitation services.

Growing population

A woman carrying a large pot of water on her head

In some places, a trek is necessary to get clean water

Population growth is one of the biggest difficulties they confront. Between 2000 and 2008, the world's population increased by 635 million people, 80 percent of whom live in urban areas, according to UN data.

"The proportion of the urban population that benefits from satisfactory access to drinking water or sanitation is decreasing," AquaFed said, pointing to UN statistics showing that 114 million more people went without access to tap water at home or in the immediate vicinity at the end of the eight-year-period.

At the same time, 134 million more people went without access to basic sanitation, the group said, pointing out that in both cases there had been a 20 percent hike of urban dwellers lacking access.

"Current efforts to develop access to water and sanitation in cities are outpaced by urbanization," Payen said.

Author: Sean Sinico (AFP, dpa)

Editor: Nathan Witkop

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