|This edition of Our Planet is timed for
UNEPs Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in
Jeju, Republic of Korea, where water and sanitation will be central to
many of the debates. Their importance is underlined by a report by the
Global Water Partnership that highlights the role of improving the
availability of clean and healthy supplies in meeting many of the
United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
This is, of course, vital if we are, by 2015, to halve the proportion of hungry people and of those living on less than one dollar a day. Water is a key factor in agriculture and other economic activities. But what about gender equality and education, where the aim is to ensure that all children complete primary school and that both sexes have equal access to both primary and secondary schooling?
The report makes it clear that improved water and sanitation means fewer sick
children, and thus greater and more predictable attendance, while
separate lavatories should also increase the girls presence.
Meanwhile many girls and young women in developing countries are
charged by their families and communities with fetching water each day,
a time-consuming and tiring business that undermines school attendance
and the ability to do homework. Having water resources and sanitation
facilities closer to home also means that they are less likely to be
sexually harassed or assaulted.
The Partnership report considers integrated water resources management balancing the needs of different water users such as agriculture, industry and the public and the state of national water efficiency plans. The World Summit on Sustainable Developments Plan of Implementation called for these to be drawn up by 2005 as part of the route map for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
It highlights real progress in such
regions and countries as Central America, Australia, Thailand, Burkina
Faso, Poland and Uganda, underlining how nations concentrated on water
and sanitation issues throughout the 2003 International Year of
One is the link between poverty and the environment or, put the other way, the link between a healthy environment and wealth and prosperity. Instinctively, these relationships seem to exist, but quantifying and pinpointing them precisely needs more examination.
The other was the link between environmental degradation and conflict. Unravelling this will become even more pressing in the 21st century as the number of people living on this wonderful blue planet rises beyond the current 6 billion.
One key question is whether a declining environment automatically triggers instability and conflict, or whether there are more subtle, complex relationships between the two. There are cases where conflict has not occurred despite such a decline, and others where it has. So it may be that a degraded environment is a trigger among a suite of factors.
Water, again, may have a central, if counter-intuitive, role. A recent report by UNEP in collaboration with other United Nations agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that cases of conflict over scarce water resources are mercifully rare. It seems that squabbling communities and nations may disagree on many things, but still cooperate on sharing water when required. So water can act as a peace broker, rather than a source of additional tension.
This underlines how studying the links between conflict and the environment may pay dividends in delivering a more peaceful and stable world
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Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Action for tomorrow | Turning words into action | One hand washes the other | People | Fragile resource | Realizing the dream | Washing away poverty | At a glance: Water and sanitation | Music makes magic Angélique Kidjo | Targeting sanitation | In a city like Mumbai | Flowing from the bottom up | Books & products | Watering a thirsty land | Peace through parks | Reaching the unheard