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Antonio Monge Vega, Member of high school of Spain, Professor at the University of Navarra.

Water and the development of the towns

Thu, 22 Mar 2012 09:57:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Today, March 22, International Water Day is commemorated around the world, an indication of the planetary interest and concern for this essential element for life. And this is the first point for reflection: life on Earth is not possible without water.

The second consideration reveals that although our planet, seen from the outside, is sample as a blue planet, 97.3% of the total surface area occupied by water is in the oceans and at the poles, so that only 2.7% is available as drinking water. Of this amount, more than 2% is in aquifers, leaving a meager 0.7% in rivers and lakes.

Moreover, water has marked the history of peoples. Societies have developed around water. In this sense, international concern for this resource is not new. Relevant historical testimonies have been found in the Nile Valley and Mesopotamia dating back more than 5,000 years. In our days we can cite a sequence of international meetings of governments and societies concerned about the topic and about a suspicion: today's society needs more water than it has at its disposal.

One of the first referents is the United Nations' lecture on Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972. Although the discussion took shape at the meeting of Mar de Plata, also of the United Nations, which addressed the efficient use of water, the assessment of resources and raised the universal right to drinking water. A premise that brought up issues such as pollution or the use of reserves.

1981-1990 was proclaimed the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. At the end of this period, the 1990 New Delhi meeting reiterated that water is for all and not for the few. Later, at the International Water and Environment lecture in Dublin in 1992, four principles of great importance were established: 1) Freshwater is a finite, vulnerable and essential resource for development and the environment; 2) The interests of all users must be taken into account; 3) Women have a fundamental role in the management of water, in all societies, but especially in societies with fewer resources; and 4) Water has a transcendental economic impact on all societies.

Subsequently, the World Water Council and the Global Water Partnership were established, which led to the First World Water Forum, held in Marrakech in 1997. This meeting outlined the long-term study deadline of topic, linking water, life and the environment in the 21st century. And in 2003, at the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, the indigenous peoples' declaration on water emerged. A quotation core topic denounced the damage to ecosystems, water pollution and depletion, as well as the unsustainable exploitation of resources and the problems arising from excessive tourism. Alarmed were the data on drought in Africa, the suffering of indigenous peoples and local communities, rural or urban, poor and vulnerable. These communities made a strong and rightful plea to be heard.

The current outlook confirms that over the last century, water consumption has grown faster than the relative increase in population. In more than 25 countries in Africa and the Middle East, the water issue is a source of conflict. Thus, its availability in Africa has decreased by a third compared to half a century ago. This is partly due to water pollution caused by over-industrialization or, in other cases, due to the lack of purification technology, sewage, acid rain, agricultural chemicals, industrial and mining discharges, etc.

In any case, water continues to be essential for the development of agriculture, the maintenance of health, the functioning of industry, the generation of energy and the survival of a quality environment. Even more seriously, diseases related to the supply of safe drinking water are the leading cause of death among children between the ages of one and four. More than 20% of humanity does not have water of adequate quality and quantity. And this represents many millions of people affected.