Global water usage increased six-fold in the last century, more than twice the rate at which the world's population grew. An estimated 1.2 billion people have no access to safe drinking water and more than 2.4 billion lack proper sanitation.
UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Misako Konno, Japanese actress, author and television star, joined in the lively launch that also included music by Massukos, a band from Mozambique known for supporting civic campaigns.
"I have visited Cambodia, the Palestinian territories and many other places as Goodwill Ambassador for UNDP," said Ms. Konno. "I have heard the voices of many poor people who do not have clean drinking water, and I think those people would very much like their voices to be heard."
Mr. Umana said that if the world is going to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which include the target halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015, "it will happen one community at a time."
The initiative reflects the concept that community action is essential for solving water and sanitation challenges, he emphasized, noting that "many global problems are both created and solved by action at the local level." He pointed out that experience has shown that "major improvements can be made with modest external support" through small grants, relevant advice and appropriate building of local capacity.
Bunker Roy of the Barefoot College in India also took part in the launch, along with Nazir Wattoo of the Pakistani organization Anjuman Samaji Behbood and Kate Mhlanga, who runs the UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme in Zimbabwe.
The initiative will provide small grants to expand and improve innovative local solutions to water and sanitation crises. With initial funding of $500,000, the target budget is $50 million for 2003 - 2008, as the initiative expands from the pilot phase to include many more countries.
The initiative will provide funds for basic construction materials and help mobilize human and financial resources to support locally-led activities. Eventually, more than 1,000 communities will benefit, and the goal is to multiply the impact by making strategies for capacity development and knowledge-sharing widely available.
The initiative will also work to ensure that local success stories have a broader influence on water policies. "We believe that policy makers at the national and international levels must learn from the valuable models for a sustainable future that are developed at the community level," said Mr. Umana.
For further information please contact Cherie Hart, Asia and Pacific Regional Communications Officer, or Akiko Fujii, UNDP Tokyo Office.