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U.N. Focuses on Cities for World Water Day 2011

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With 884 million, or one in eight people, lacking access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion without toilets, the United Nations marked World Water Day with a call to attend to the challenge of providing water in urban environments.

A generation from now 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban settings, so this year’s focus is on "Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge."

In the United States and Canada, large percentages of Native populations lack access to clean, potable water, mostly on reserves. In fact a recent U.N. fact-finding mission found that at least 13 percent of the American Indian population lacks clean water or wastewater disposal, as opposed to 0.6 percent of the rest of the population—a difference so stark that human rights lawyer Catarina de Albuquerque, who conducted the U.N. study, said it constituted discrimination.

Legislators are addressing this in California with a bill that would make water access a human right.

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In Canada aboriginal groups are up in arms over a federal drinking-water bill that they say would not in fact solve the water problems faced by their communities.

An investigative series last year in the Winnipeg Free Press detailed the water woes of northern Manitobans, where half the residents of Island Lake, an hour’s flight from the province’s capital, do not have running water. More than 40 percent of Canada’s First Nations homes lacking running water are in Manitoba, the Winnipeg Free Press said, although that province holds just 15 percent of the country’s reserve housing stock. The plight prompted a day care center to assist.