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More effort needed to save world water supplies

The year was marked by a lack of water in Europe Keystone

Threats to global water supplies remain a major concern as the International Year of Freshwater drew to a close on Thursday.

This content was published on November 13, 2003 - 18:34

The Swiss government, which hailed the event a success, warned that more action was needed to protect the finite resource.

Ironically, 2003 was one of Switzerland’s driest and hottest on record, serving as a wake-up call that even as “Europe’s water tower”, the country is not immune to drought.

“The weather had a very positive effect in terms of making the Swiss aware,” said Willy Geiger, deputy director of the Swiss environment agency.

“The dry conditions this year showed that even in Switzerland – a developed country with considerable water resources – water can be a problem.”

The summer heatwave took its toll on Swiss rivers and lakes, many of which plunged to their lowest levels. Water restrictions were imposed in several parts of the country.

Warm water temperatures “stressed” fish and many had to be moved to cooler waters.

Survey satisfaction

Besides a soaring mercury – which often passed 35 degrees Celsius this summer –more than 70 local projects across Switzerland also raised awareness of the need to better conserve water.

A survey conducted for the Swiss government by Urs Zweifel from Z-Analyse showed that the campaign - launched in March - achieved its goal.

“More than 70 per cent of Swiss people knew that 2003 was the International Year of Freshwater,” said Zweifel.

“They realised that water is precious and shouldn’t be wasted. They also recognised the need to protect water against pollution, especially the ecosystems that depend on water.”

A poll carried out by swissinfo in the streets of the capital, Bern, confirmed Zweifel’s findings: roughly three in five knew about the special water event.

Water poor

For 2003 to be judged a real success, Geiger said the Swiss needed to continue efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions and to reduce micropollutants like hormones that are increasingly being found in lakes and rivers.

Efforts like these, he said, would go some way towards achieving the United Nations millennium goal of halving the number of people who do not have access to clean water by 2015.

The UN estimates that 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to adequate sanitation and 1.4 billion are without safe drinking water.

Throughout 2003, Switzerland joined international efforts to increase access to clean water.

“An example of this from our point of view would be that we have reinforced all activities connected to water in central Asia, and there we practically doubled the money we have put into the water projects,” said Remo Gautschi from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

“I think our efforts are in line with this millennium development goal, which is an enormous challenge. But I think… if we try hard, it’s one we could achieve.”

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

In brief

The Swiss government hailed the International Year of Freshwater a success.

More than 70 per cent of Swiss said they knew about the event and the need to conserve water.

The population’s awareness was attributed in part to the unusually dry and hot year, as well as local information projects staged across Switzerland.

Nevertheless, the government warned that more needed to be done beyond 2003 to save the finite resource.

The Federal Water and Geology Office, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, issued their own action plan to continue water conservation projects.

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