Water and sanitation have fallen to the bottom of the United Nation’s list of priorities for its Millennium Development Goals aimed at improving the lives of billions of people in the world’s poorest countries.
Upcoming talks in New York this month are expected to rate successes and failures in meeting the development goals, and also find ways to push them forward over the next five years, in the run-up to the 2015 deadline.
Water is sidelined in a report set to be aired at the summit, said Anders Berntell, from the Stockholm International Water Institute.
The accusation comes ahead of World Water Week, which marks its 20th anniversary next week involving government representatives, business people, scientists and aid workers.
Good management of water resources and providing drinking water and sanitation are vital to meet all the 15 development goals - including halving extreme poverty and hunger, Mr Berntell told Inter Press Service newswire.
"Without water, we can never fight hunger, without toilets in schools, girls will continue to drop out before finalising their education; and without adequate sanitation and hygiene, diseases will continue to spread, resulting in increasing child mortality and bad maternal health," Mr Berntell said.
People suffering from diseases carried by water are taking up too many beds in hospitals, he said, urging that water is key to meeting each of the development goals. In Sub Saharan Africa, half of all hospital beds are occupied by people who became sick from dirty water or bad sanitation.
The current water crisis is bigger than the crises brought on by “HIV/Aids, malaria, tsunamis, earthquakes and all the wars put together in a given year," warned Aaron Wolf, programme director in Water Conflict Management and Transformation at the Oregon State University.
More than 800 million people worldwide have no access to safe drinking water, according to figures from the United Nations, while 2.5 billion people don’t have access to decent sanitation.
"Access to clean water and adequate sanitation are a pre-requisite for lifting people out of poverty," said United Nations Deputy Secretary- General, Asha-Rose Migiro. Seven out of 10 people without improved sanitation live in rural areas, she noted. But the number of people in towns and cities who lack decent sanitation is rising too, she said.
"Although 1.3 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world is likely to miss the MDG sanitation target by a billion people," she said.