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`Listen': break the barrier for safe water

By Our Staff Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MARCH 22 . As many as 2.2 million children could die this year due to water-borne diseases, says a report released today by the Geneva-based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) here to mark World Water Day.

With half of the world's poor suffering, lack of water and sanitation are the major causes of health problem, the report points out.

"The main barrier to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for all is not lack of resources, but unwillingness to learn from past failures and to listen to those who have pioneered new approaches in this area," the report titled "Listen" says.

It criticises the international community for the most serious failure in development in the past 50 years; despite decades of effort and spending billions of dollars, about 2.4 billion people still have no access to adequate sanitation.

In India 5,19,500 children are dying due to hygiene-related diseases and 17 per cent have abnormal growth. "At the core of the failure has been the attempt to `deliver' solutions from the outside — usually in the form of installing hardware — to communities who have had no involvement in, or ownership, of the process,'' the WSSCC Executive Director, Gourisankar Ghosh, said.

The report - compiled in two years — states that the key issue in water and sanitation is not, primarily the availability of resources. It is the willingness on the part of those who allocate those resources to learn the lessons of both past failures and current success.

The WSSCC believes that the greatest contribution it can make towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water and sanitation is to listen to the voices of those who have felt the frustrations of failures and those who have helped pioneer the successes.

The report suggests that non-governmental organisations can find ways forward with a limited number of communities; the U.N. agencies and aid programmes can bring to bear resources and experiences.

But it is national and local governments — their priorities and policies, their attitudes and actions that will determine whether known solutions are put into action on the same scale as the known problems.

The report recommends need assessment along with communities, identification of appropriate technological alternatives, appropriate and affordable options in full consultation with village communities and cost sharing for construction of facilities at all levels.

The WSSCC is an international organisation that enhances collaboration in the water supply and sanitation sector, specifically to attain universal coverage of water and sanitation services for poor people around the world.

The council was set up in 1990 through a mandate of the United Nations General Assembly.

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