By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

At a time when billions of people live without sustainable access to safe drinking water or suffer ill health due to poor sanitation, when worsening food crisis battles bioenergy for land and water resources, and when global climate change is shaking the overall water balance, 2008’s World Water Week gets underway in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo: Community-Led Total Sanitation toilet

The conference theme this year – Progress and Prospects on Water: For A Clean and Healthy World with Special Focus on Sanitation – is focussing on how lacking water supply impacts sanitation and hygiene. The conference has already heard calls for radical changes in behaviour and mentality when it comes to water usage.

“We’ve had a luxurious lifestyle during the last 25 years, not caring at all about the environment. It’s necessary to change the way people consume, buy, eat,” said British professor John Anthony Allan, winner of the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize.

Almost half of the world’s population lacks proper toilet facilities, a situation that can have dire consequences on public health and which poses a challenge to resolve since water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource.Twenty percent of the planet’s population face water shortages, a figure that is expected to hit 30 percent by 2025, according to the United Nations which has declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation.

“Sanitation is one of the biggest scandals of all times. It’s something that we have to put on our radar screen,” insisted Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who heads up the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

He said some “7,500 people die every day due to this lack of sanitation,” pointing out that “the situation is the same as seven years ago.”

More news as it happens from Stockholm .