Relatively inexpensive measures such as collecting rainwater or plugging leaky pipes can go a long way to meeting a U.N. goal of improving water supplies in the developing world by 2015, the new head of a U.N. commission has stated.
Norwegian Environment Minister Boerge Brende, appointed last month as chairman of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development, also suggested city councils in rich nations might "adopt" regions in Africa to improve water supplies.
"The main focus...will be on water, sanitary conditions," he told Alister Doyle of Reuters about his two-year term. The commission would also make a linked drive to improve conditions for the poorest people living in slums in the next two years.
One in six people on the planet, or 1.1 billion people, lack access to safe drinking water. Halving that proportion is part of a U.N. plan to halve extreme poverty by 2015.
A parallel goal of halving the proportion of people who lack basic sanitation, now about 2.4 billion people, was added at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg last year. Water-related diseases kill a child every eight seconds.
Brende said simple measures could make a huge difference even though the World Bank estimates the goal of improving water supplies alone could cost $25 billion a year.
Rainwater collected from rooftops can be stored in barrels, for instance, while pipes in Africa leak about half the water that goes into them before they reach a tap.
"Rainwater harvesting could help up to two billion people in Asia alone," he said.
Brende said the goals meant another 270,000 people needed to get access to safe water every day in the next 12 years.
"It's a daunting task, but not impossible," he said.
He also said businesses, local authorities and other groups had to help alongside governments. He said, for instance, his local council in the mid-Norwegian city of Trondheim could "adopt" a city in Africa to improve water and sanitation.
Other cities around the world could follow suit.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said the world is slipping behind with the millennium development goals, which also include cutting child mortality and ensuring universal primary education.