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Statement by Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, on the occasion of World Water Day, 22 March 2007


21 March 2007

This year's World Water Day focuses on the theme of "coping with water scarcity". We know that water scarcity has a direct impact on human health and well-being.

Every year, more than 1.6 million people die because they lack access to safe water and sanitation. Ninety per cent of the deaths occur among children under five, mostly in developing countries. For every child that dies, countless others suffer from poor health, diminished productivity, and missed opportunities for education. Much of this illness and death could be prevented using knowledge that has existed for many years.

When water is scarce, people are often forced to rely on drinking water sources that may not be safe. They may even lack sufficient water for basic hygiene - to wash themselves and their clothes, and to prevent infection including from foodborne and waterborne diseases.

Climate change is also making the availability of freshwater less predictable. Flooding and drought are becoming more frequent and severe in both the developed and developing regions of the world. The result may be an increase in diseases such as cholera, typhoid, malaria and dengue.

Water is everyone's business. We should learn from each other. In many parts of the world, inadequate management of irrigation is linked to increased risks of malaria, schistosomiasis (bilharzia) and other vector-borne diseases. Improved environmental management can make it more difficult for disease vectors such as mosquitoes to survive and to breed. This should help to cut transmission of malaria, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis and Japanese encephalitis.

Today on World Water Day, we also think about the millions of women who walk great distances to fetch water. In addition to the daily burden of carrying heavy water loads, they run the risk of being physically assaulted when seeking water. Children, in particular girls, can miss school in order to go and get water. Women as providers and users of water and guardians of the living environment have seldom been considered in arrangements for the development and management of water resources.

Let us make World Water Day more than a date in the calendar. I believe we must act together responsibly to ensure water for all, for a better future.

For more information please contact:

Christine McNab
Communications Department
WHO, Geneva
Tel: +41 22 791 4688
Mobile: +41 79 254 6815
E-mail: mcnabc@who.int

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