NEW YORK, New York, March 22, 2013 (ENS) – “Water is central to the wellbeing of people and the planet,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon said in his video message for the International Year of Water Cooperation 2013. “We must work together to protect and carefully manage this fragile, finite resource.”

The fulfillment of basic human needs, the environment, socio-economic development and poverty reduction are all dependent on water, said Ban. “Cooperating around this precious resource is key for security, poverty eradication, social equity and gender equality.”

Today, on the 20th anniversary of World Water Day, declared by the UN General Assembly, more than 780 million people do not have access to improved sources of drinking water and 2.5 billion people are without improved sanitation. Population growth together with changing consumption patterns, especially in cities, is driving an increase in water demand.

boy Myanmar

A boy drinks water from Mann creek at Einma village in Singu Township, Myanmar. (Photo by UNICEF)

With the world population expected to grow from a little over seven billion today to eight billion by 2025, water withdrawals should increase by 50 percent in developing countries and by 18 percent in developed countries. Water for irrigation and food production is one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources.

Drinking unsafe water harms children, causing waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, intestinal worms and typhoid. But many children have no other option.

An estimated 148 countries share a basin with one or several other countries, which is a potential source of conflict, as actions upstream have impacts on downstream countries. The Danube, for example, is shared by 19 countries, and the Nile River by 11. Water over extraction, diversion, pollution, scarcity and the neglect of existing agreements are often at the roots of water tensions.

“Governments must commit to finding inclusive and cooperative solutions to water challenges,” said Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian who serves as director-general of UNESCO, in her messages on the occasion of World Water Day. “For this, we must take decisions that involve all relevant actors, from investors to users,” she said.

A new UN Water analytical brief on water security released today demonstrates that shared waters provide opportunities for cooperation across nations and support political dialogue on broader issues such as regional economic integration, environmental conservation, and sustainable development

At the official ceremony of World Water Day 2013 taking place in The Hague, UN Water has recognized two projects that contribute to the fulfillment of international commitments made on water and water-related issues this year.