Among the Objectives of the Millenium for Development (OMD), signed into being in 2000 by UN member countries, is to « reduce by half, by 2015, the percentage of the population that does not have long-term access to clean water supplies.” Where do you stand on that today?
I don’t want to be a scientific terrorist but the numbers are alarming: today one child dies every second due to dirty water. Some 1.5 million lives could be saved every year. For example, if things remain the same in sub-Saharan Africa, where 42 percent of the population does not access to clean water, our objective there, initially aiming for 2015, will still not be achieved in 2076!
The United Nations have declared 2008 to be the International Year of Sanitation. What are the issues involved?
Each year more than 200 million tons of solid untreated human waste in the world pass through the water cycle. This sewage is going to have an impact on the quality of water: it is a bomb waiting to explode in 50 or 60 years.
Even if we’re able to manage surface waters, the real problem in years to come will be a lack of scientific knowledge about the subterranean water levels underneath. We know there exist 162 international rivers. On the other hand, it is harder to list the subterranean water sources: in Africa we count 40 tansborder aquifers. They are used in one country without understanding the impact on that country’s neighboring countries because the dynamic of the flows is not well-known. For example, the sandstone aquifer of Nubia – as large as the country of Germany – borders on Libya, Egypt, Chad and the Sudan. We are in the process of putting into place an inter-state management commission so as to avoid possible conflict. Because, 50 years from now, subterranean water will be a source of conflict.
In Europe, 92% of people have access to clean drinking water versus only 45% in Asia and 18% in Africa. How can we help the less developed countries?
At UNESCO we estimate some 10 million dollars in investment are necessary to halve the number of people living without sanitation in 2015. That’s less than one percent of the total world’s military budget, a third of what is spent in bottled water a year and the equivalent of what is spent in ice creams in Europe.
The priority rests on western countries, who have to become conscious that they are not isolated islands and that they live in a global, interconnected world. For example, when a European drinks his cup of coffee in the morning, 140 litres of water have been used to transport that coffee. Hence the importance of international cooperation. Water has to be shared. And the culture of water has to be propagated.