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Red Cross: Dirty Water Kills Millions

Chronic lack of clean water and sanitation in the developing world kills as many people every month as last year's Indian Ocean (search) tsunami, the international Red Cross said Thursday.

More than 3 million people die annually from diseases spread though dirty water and poor sanitation facilities, but their plight rarely gets the same publicity as a single natural disaster, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (search). The humanitarian agency launched a 10-year plan aimed at providing clean water and sanitation to the world's poor.

Water-related illnesses account for about a third of common recurrent diseases around the world and cause lost working time when people fall sick or have to collect water from far away, said Uli Jaspers, the federation's water and sanitation chief.

"You can see the destructive impact a lack of water and sanitation can have on economies and livelihoods," Jaspers said.

More than 1.1 billion people around the world lack safe water and a further 2.4 billion have no access to sanitation, the federation said.

The Red Cross initiative will focus on long-term solutions, and includes financial aid to dig new wells and modernize existing water supplies, as well as building more hygienic latrines.

The Dec. 26 tsunami also highlighted the need for clean water in emergencies, the federation said, adding that it already helps more than 2 million people every year following catastrophes.

"Our capacity and expertise in providing adequate water and sanitation in disasters will continue and expand," Jaspers said.