The United Nations marked World Water Day today with calls for more equitable distribution and efficient use of a scarce resource; a grim reminder that 6,000 people, mostly children, die every day from dirty water; and a message of hope for one of the planet’s poorest regions, Africa, springing from its rich potential for irrigation. “Let us recognize the cultural, environmental and economic importance of clean water, and strengthen our efforts to protect rivers, lakes and aquifers,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message.“We need to distribute water more equitably, and increase the efficiency of water use, especially in agriculture. Let us mount a sustained effort – among international bodies, Governments and local communities, and across traditions and cultures – that will reach our goals.”Mr. Annan warned that water continues to be wasted and degraded all over the world, in cities and rural areas alike, citing the grim statistics: 18 per cent of the world’s population lack access to safe drinking water; 40 per cent lack basic sanitation; every day, some 6,000 people, most of them children, die from water-related causes.The President of the General Assembly, Ambassador Jan Eliasson of Sweden, also underscored the scourge confronted by people in developing countries where families cannot grow crops, girls cannot go to school because they are walking long distances to fetch water and children die because of the lack of clean water.“We need to get the world back on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving by 2015 the percentage of people without access to safe water,” he said in a statement.With 852 million chronically hungry people in the world today and a global population expected to increase by 2 billion people by 2030, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed that reducing hunger will only be possible if agricultural yields are significantly increased, and increased production will depend largely on investment in irrigation.“Underused water resources in parts of Africa offer great potential for irrigation, especially using simple and inexpensive technologies,” it said in a statement, noting that. Africa uses less than 6 per cent of its renewable water resources, compared with 20 per cent in Asia. Only 7 per cent of arable land in Africa is irrigated, compared with 38 per cent in Asia.Small-scale irrigation and drainage works carried out at the rural community level using local labour offer an effective, low-cost option. “Carefully designed water management strategies and programmes aimed at improving the efficiency and productivity of water use need to be put in place,” Pasquale Steduto, Chief of FAO’s Water Resources, Development and Management Service, said.In Bangkok, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Kim Hak-Su, noted that although the region has the highest economic growth rates in the world, it also has the lowest per-capita fresh water availability, and the highest number of people living below the poverty line. “Over 600 million people live without access to safe drinking water and without appropriate sanitation,” he told a meeting on the future of the region’s water resources today, noting that last year per capita water availability was about 3,400 cubic metres (m3) per annum, while the world average was estimated at 7,600 m3 per annum.Furthermore, in 2005 Asia was home to 71 per cent of the total number of people in the world without access to improved sanitation, 58 per cent of those without access to safe water and 56 per cent of the world’s undernourished.