ARTICLE (June 05 2003): World Environment Day, commemorated each year on 5th June is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates world wide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action.
Each year this event provides a unique opportunity for local and global action to tackle the many environmental challenges facing us, and undertake a variety of activities aimed at renewing commitment to the protection of the environment.
World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.
Another resolution adopted by the General Assembly the same day, led to the creation of United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
Broadly, the UN agenda is to give a human face to environmental issues, empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable developments, promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues, and advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and people enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.
The issue of water - its quality, its quantity, and its guaranteed availability to all people regardless of income or social status - is one of the most pressing challenges facing the world community today.
That's why UNEP has chosen the slogan, "Water - Two Billion People are Dying For It!" for this year's celebrations.
The slogan emphasises the urgency of providing adequate supply of water to all the people of the world.
The theme calls on each of us to help safeguard the most precious source of life on our planet - WATER.
This theme has been chosen to support the United Nations International Year of Freshwater 2003 and World Water Day (22nd March).
Current statistics are disturbing. One person in six lives without regular access to safe drinking water. Over twice that number - 2.4 billion people - lack access to adequate sanitation.
Water related diseases kill a child every eight seconds, and are responsible for 80 percent of all illnesses and deaths in the developing world - a situation made all the more tragic by our long-standing knowledge that these diseases are easily preventable.
The latest Global Environment Outlook, GEO-3, estimates that more than half the people in the world could be living in severely water-stressed areas by 2032.
At the Millennium Summit and World Summit on Sustainable Development, the international community set measurable, time-bound commitments for the provision of safe water and sanitation.
These targets - to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation services, both by the year 2015 - are vital in and of themselves, but are also crucial if we are to meet the other Millennium Development Goals,
including reducing child mortality, combating malaria eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, empowering women, and improving the lives of slum dwellers.
Pakistan, a country of 140 million people, projected to increase to over 200 million in 10 years, is also over pumping its aquifers.
In Baluchistan, the water table around the provincial capital of Quetta is falling by 3.5 meters per year.
"Within 15 years Quetta will run out of water if the current consumption rate continues", says a water expert.
The growing local and regional conflicts over water, the four-year drought, the limitation of the existing infrastructure for water storage, preservation, and its equitable distribution have all added to Pakistan's severe water crisis.
It is estimated that hardly 75 percent in urban areas and just over 50 percent in rural areas may have access to drinking water.
Studies indicate the ever-widening gap between demand and supply will increase to uncontrolled proportions if no urgent measures are taken.
Although the provision of water services has risen across the developing world during the past 20 years, those gains have largely been cancelled out by population growth.
Many parts of the world now face the spectre of water scarcity because of climate change, pollution and over-consumption. The situation is more alarming in developing countries like Pakistan falling in the Arid Region of the world.
(The writer is Secretary to Government of Sindh, Forest and Wildlife Department)
Copyright 2003 Business Recorder