Earth Summit confronts global water crisis
JOHANNESBURG - Earth Summit delegates yesterday tackled ways to quench the planet\'s growing thirst and provide sanitation to billions of the world\'s poor who do without either every day.
The world gathering entered its third day in Johannesburg amid tight security against the possibility of fresh protests and with the land seizures crisis in Zimbabwe threatening to divert the attention of world leaders flying in next week.
There was progress between rich and poor states on demands by Third World countries for more aid finance and fairer trade and United Nations organisers also reported progress in setting firm targets and deadlines for improving the state of healthcare and fish stocks among a vast array of proposals on the agenda.
\"We have agreed on 99 percent of the text on finance,\" John Ashe, a Caribbean delegate who has been brokering a compromise, told a news conference. Officials also agreed to reaffirm pledges on opening markets to Third World exporters but remained divided over wording on the issue of \"globalisation\", he said.
Nearly one in five people or 1.1 billion men, women and children have no access to fresh water, according to the U.N., while a staggering 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation.
\"To service the human community of India with sanitation and water is a Herculean task...The world community should come forward to help us through the U.N. organisations,\" Indian Evironment Minister T.R. Baalu told Reuters.
India saw the worst start to the monsoon season in 15 years in July, bringing drought to many areas. Water tables in countries as far apart as the United States and China are steadily declining because of overconsumption.
At their Millennium U.N. summit two years ago, world leaders agreed to \"halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or to afford, safe drinking water\" by 2015.
To meet those goals, states will have to more than double their spending on fresh water investments to $180 billion, according the United Nations estimates.
Summit host South Africa is leading a drive by developing countries to halve a similar target for sanitation - an initiative resisted by the United States and some other nations.
The 10-day World Summit on Sustainable Development gathers delegates from some 200 countries hoping to put together an action plan to reduce poverty while preserving the environment.
An agreement at the weekend to try and protect diminishing stocks of fish in the world\'s oceans had buoyed spirits.
But some environmentalists are questioning whether the deal can be enforced against pirate trawlers.
Ashe told Reuters there had been a number of agreements on trade during talks among officials in the small hours of Wednesday. But he warned that some felt the wording went beyond rich states\' pledges at world trade talks last year in Doha to open up their markets to exporters from the Third World.
So a final deal may depend on the leaders coming next week.
On other crunch issues such as how to bring clean energy and water to the billions of poor who have none, countries remained starkly divided, with poorer countries accusing the rich north of failing to live up to past promises.
South Africa has deployed at least 10,000 extra police and troops to prevent a repeat of the violent confrontations that marred previous international gatherings in Seattle and Genoa.
About 200 Johannesburg street hawkers marched to the tightly-guarded convention centre yesterday, demanding that police allow them back on the streets near the summit venue.
\"We want the summit to help us talk to this government of ours who stops us from working,\" said hawker Sonia Baloi.
A few hundred protesters gained worldwide publicity last Saturday in a minor but televised confrontation with South African police in central Johannesburg.
The gathering is the most prestigious event South Africa has hosted since the death of white minority rule in 1994 ended the country\'s isolation.
In a joint editorial in the International Herald Tribune, the leaders of South Africa, Brazil and Sweden urged their counterparts to put words into action next week.
\"A quantum leap in the struggle to eliminate poverty and move toward a sustainable future is within reach,\" said Thabo Mbeki, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Goran Persson.
The land crisis in Zimbabwe looked set to take a turn at the summit after Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said this week he wanted talks with other leaders in Johannesburg.
The troubled African country is plunging into ever deeper chaos as the government of President Robert Mugabe presses ahead with a plan to force 2,900 of the remaining 4,500 white commercial farmers to quit their land without compensation.
Mugabe, who is due in Johannesburg, says his land drive is aimed at correcting colonial injustices which left 70 percent of the country\'s best farmland in the hands of whites.
Later in the day, delegates will look at widening poor nations\' access to energy and to curb global pollution by promoting renewable energy sources like solar or hydropower.
About two billion people, a third of the world lacks access to modern energy like electricity or even fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, are a major source of pollution and are blamed for global warming. But they account for about 80 percent of total global energy consumption.
Story by Darren Schuettler
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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