It is one of the most vital resources in the world. In Paraguay, a man displaced by a swollen river carries heavy buckets of them to his temporary home. In the Philippines, a girl uses a hand pump to get just enough to wash. In Venezuelan neighborhoods it is collected in wells and flows into hundreds of homes.
Water is the lifeblood of every community around the world. But a sustainable and clean supply of drinking water, sanitation and agriculture is not guaranteed for hundreds of millions of people, according to United Nations data.
From droughts choking off once-reliable sources to destructive downpours and floods, what the world does about its water problems is the central question at the three-day United Nations water conference starting Wednesday. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of World Water Day, it is the first United Nations conference dedicated to water in almost 50 years.
Climate change, pollution and waste have exacerbated water concerns by squeezing Earth’s resources. Some stocks have declined due to lack of rainfall, with dry spells often lasting months if not years in some places. Others have had essential supplies contaminated with chemicals or toxins resulting from human activity.
A terrible winter drought in southern Europe has left the basins so dry that officials are moving fish for their survival. Kenya’s dry climate and lack of infrastructure mean that many people collect water at local hubs to collect enough. Peru’s water workers must treat water contaminated by waste from abandoned mines, bacteria and garbage. In Haiti, where running water isn’t available in some homes, people, including children, fill large pitchers in narrowing ravines.
Some countries exposed to too much or too little water have already found ways to keep water flowing in the necessary quantities. In the Netherlands, where about a third of the country is below sea level, wind pumps prevent the regions from being flooded.
Delegates attending the New York conference on Friday will agree on an agenda to move toward the goal of having readily available and sustainably managed water and sanitation for all around the world.
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