Some 1.4 billion people in the world, primarily in Asia and Africa, have no access to clean water while 2.6 billion have no basic sanitary system, according to Jamal Saghir, the head of water issues at the World Bank.
Three million children die each year because they have no clean drinking water, he added.
Saghir said water management, seen as the key to fighting poverty and promoting economic growth, must be synonymous with sustainable development.
“The World Bank will not grant loans to projects that don’t respect the rules” of international development, he warned, stressing the importance of prioritizing the funding of supply services over infrastructures.
“Why have pipes if they are empty,” he said.
Swedish Environment Minister Lena Sommestad also insisted on the need to focus on long-term goals.
“Democracy is also an important aspect and women must be involved,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sunita Narain, whose Indian environmental organization The Center for Science and Environment won this year’s 150,000-dollar Stockholm Water Prize for its work to improve water management, stressed that a country’s level of development must be considered when finding solutions.
Narain, an ardent promoter of rainwater harvesting in her native country, told the conference that the Western model was not necessarily the best solution for other countries.
“It is not enough to tell us ‘build the infrastructures and bring in the private sector’. The water problem is more complicated. Please do not give us easy answers,” she said, adding: “We can’t afford the modern system.”
This week’s conference gathers some 1,200 experts from 100 countries until Friday.