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close this bookHabitat Debate - Vol. 6 - No. 3 - 2000 - Water for Thirsty Cities (HABITAT, 2000, 46 p.)
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EDITORIAL

Message from the Executive Director


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I am pleased that my first message to Habitat Debate readers addresses one of the most pressing issues facing our planet: how to conserve, preserve and sustain water in our cities.

Of all the natural resources available to human beings, water is the most essential for virtually every human activity. However, as the world’s urban population reaches the 3 billion mark, water is being used more quickly than it is being replenished. Water tables are falling in every continent due to over-exploitation of underground water resources and major rivers are drained dry before they reach the sea because of intensive irrigation and urban consumption. Moreover, pollution and depletion of water resources, wastage of treated water and lack of investment in the water sector are all contributing to the impending global water crisis. Ironically, while nearly half of the urban population in developing countries have no access to municipal water supplies, up to 50 per cent of the treated water is lost though pilferage and leakages.

The demand for water has also increased phenomenally as city populations become more dense and concentrated. As a result, competition for water has become more acute, not only between cities and their hinterland but also between nations. It is predicted that wars in the 21st century may well be over access to water resources. Water is, or has been, an issue in many peace agreements and negotiations, particularly in the Middle East.

The water crisis is closely linked to how cities are governed and managed. As several articles in this issue illustrate, urban residents must have a larger stake in the planning, development, management and protection of water resources. A broad-based partnership of public, private and community sectors is needed. The private sector brings in efficiency gains in water management; community participation facilitates transparency, equity and sense of ownership; the government has an important role to play in setting policies and serving as a regulatory agency.

Improved governance would also lead to democratization of water usage. The urban poor, women and children in particular, have far less access to water than the rich and pay far more for it. Policy-makers and planners are not only faced with the daunting challenge of supplying adequate water to all but also of ensuring that the available water is not wasted or contaminated. These tasks are crucial for the survival and the sustainability of our cities and human settlements.


Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka
Executive Director
UNCHS (Habitat)