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TO QUENCH THE THIRST OF MILLIONS

Exacerbating the challenge of economic development is the issue of climate change, which strongly influences the hydrological cycle. Droughts and floods, intensified by climate.

At present, our society has not yet attained a level of sustainability whereby humanity honours and respects life upon this planet and uses fairly and equitably the resources it provides. The United Nations system has taken on a lead role in addressing this challenge through the setting of the millennium development goals and water has a crucial role to play in this.

Forty per cent of the world's population live in situations of extreme poverty and efforts are underway to lift them out of the poverty trap and to offer greater protection from the natural hazards that prevail. This introductory chapter will give a flavour of some of the critical challenges involved in managing fresh water to enable poverty alleviation and socioeconomic development, within an environmentally-sound integrated framework. The rural poor are often at the end of irrigation systems, and at the whim of richer upstream users for water...

Poverty impinges on individual households and families. In aggregate, it affects approximately 1 billion people worldwide. This represents one-sixth of the total world population which, through sickness, hunger, thirst, destitution and marginalization, find it impossible to climb out of the pit of extreme poverty. Very poor people struggle to pay for adequate food and water, for housing, for medicines and drugs to treat sick family members, for transport to get to places of work or carry sick family members to treatment centres, and for the education of their children.

The extreme poor live hand to mouth ' what they earn in an urban area on a good day will buy food and water for the family for that day. Very often, the quantity of water needed for personal and domestic hygiene is too expensive to buy from street water vendors, too far to carry in the case of distant water sources, and often necessitates the use of polluted water from nearby, heavily used, rivers and streams. Rarely do they have access to improved sanitation and, where this may be available from a public facility in towns and cities, the cost to the whole family may be prohibitive. Many poor families occupy land over which they have no formal legal rights ' in a squatter community or slum, often with little flood protection infrastructure.

Many also farm on marginal land owned by others with limited access to reliable water. Drainage systems for urban rain and storm water are frequently inadequate, no formal systems for solid waste collection are provided, and there is a lack of paved areas, such as footpaths and roads.

The latter are important and not just for movement; they also provide a location for the installation and ready operation and maintenance of network utility services such as water, drainage and electricity. The payment structure for many utility services (such as water, electricity), with their up-front connection charges and monthly consumption charges, are often too high for the poor to pay them. On top of all of this, debt frequently adds to the burdens of poor households.

In rural areas, the food and water needed by families will be taken largely from the natural environment. Water is carried from a distant spring or pool, some not very nutritious food may be grown on marginally productive land, or collected from forests and is most often insufficient to satisfy hunger and provide much needed nourishment.

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