Nozipho Dlamini, Bua News - Govt Communication and Information Systems
The situation is getting worse due to population growth, urbanisation and increased domestic and industrial water use, said Dr Chan.
Today, 22 March is celebrated each year. This year, the day is celebrated under the theme Coping with Water Scarcity
This year's theme highlights the increasing significance of water scarcity worldwide and the need for increased integration and cooperation to ensure sustainable, efficient and equitable management of scarce water resources, both at international and local levels.
The international observance of World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.
According to Dr Chan, every year, more than 1, 6 million people die because of lack of access to safe water and sanitation. Ninety per cent of the deaths occur among children under five, mostly in developing countries, she said.
For every child that dies, countless others suffer from poor health, diminished productivity, and missed opportunities for education. Much of this illness and death could be prevented using knowledge that has existed for many years, she said.
The health consequences of water scarcity include diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, salmonellosis, other gastrointestinal viruses, and dysentery.
When water was scarce, she said, people were often forced to rely on drinking water sources that might not be safe.
They may even lack sufficient water for basic hygiene - to wash themselves and their clothes, and to prevent infection including from food-borne and water-borne diseases, Dr Chan said.
She noted that climate change was also making the availability of freshwater less predictable.
Flooding and drought are becoming more frequent and severe in both the developed and developing regions of the world.
The result may be an increase in diseases such as cholera, typhoid, malaria and dengue, she said.
In many parts of the world, inadequate management of irrigation is linked to increased risks of malaria, schistosomiasis (bilharzia) and other vector-borne diseases.
Improved environmental management can make it more difficult for disease vectors such as mosquitoes to survive and to breed, she said adding that this should help to cut transmission of malaria, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis and Japanese encephalitis.
Dr Chan urged everyone to take responsibility by conserving, recycling and protecting water more efficiently.
Marking the start if Notational Water Week in the country Monday, Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Lindiwe Hendricks said the availability of water was a key factor in the growth of the country's economy and in the alleviation of poverty.
Our water therefore needs to be protected, conserved and used with care, as socio-economic development is dependent on this valuable resource, said Ms Hendricks.
The theme for this year's National Water Week is Water is life - protect our scarce resources.
She noted that with South Africa's low rainfall, compared to most other countries in the world, it was regarded as a dry country.
We have an average of 450 mm rain per year in comparison with the international average of 860 mm per year, and with our very hot climate which contributes to a high rate of evaporation, we need to be very cautious with our water resources.
For this reason, everyone needs to adopt a strategic change in the use and conservation of our water resources to ensure some water for all, she said.
She added that conserving water was the responsibility of all in South Africa as every drop counted.
We do not have unlimited water in our country. Already we have parts of the country that experience droughts. We should, therefore, not take the available water for granted, she said. - BuaNews