Lack of clean water ‘one of the biggest scandals of all time’

A week-long conference on the significance of water resources kicked off in Stockholm on Monday with calls for a radical rethink on how water is used.

“We’ve had a luxurious lifestyle during the last 25 years, not caring at all about the environment. It’s necessary to change the way people consume, buy, eat,” said British professor John Anthony Allan, winner of the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize.

The annual World Water Week, which has gathered some 2,500 experts in the Swedish capital, is focused this year on how lacking water supply impacts sanitation and hygiene.

Almost half of the world’s population lacks proper toilet facilities, a situation that can have dire consequences on public health and which poses a challenge to resolve since water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource.

Climate change, soaring population numbers and the rapid economic development of Asia and Africa have all put a strain on the world’s water supply.

“It’s important to increase the awareness of the decision makers on this issue,” said World Water Week chief Anders Berntell, referring to the urgent need to improve sanitation around the world.

Twenty percent of the planet’s population face water shortages, a figure that is expected to hit 30 percent by 2025, according to the United Nations which has declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation.

“Sanitation is one of the biggest scandals of all times. It’s something that we have to put on our radar screen,” insisted Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who heads up the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

He said some “7,500 people die every day due to this lack of sanitation,” pointing out that “the situation is the same as seven years ago.”