UNITED NATIONS (NEWSnet/AP) — The United Nations chief called for improved efforts on drinking water and sanitation efforts Wednesday, during the first world conference on water that has been held since 1977.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during the opening session that water is “humanity’s lifeblood” and a human right, but the world is draining it through “unsustainable” use. He urged those attending the three-day event to help ensure that all people have access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030.

The U.N. World Water Development Report, issued just before conference, says 26% of the world’s population — 2 billion people — don’t have access to safe drinking water and 46% — 3.6 billion people — lack access to basic sanitation.

To reach that goal, the secretary-general called for major investments in water and sanitation systems and efforts to address climate change.

Conference organizers say that more than 500 such commitments have been registered toward that goal from governments, U.N. agencies, business leaders and civil society.

For example, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced a new commitment from the Biden administration just before the conference of $49 billion toward "equitable, climate-resilient water and sanitation investments.”

The U.N. Water Conference is co-hosted by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon. There are representatives of 171 countries on the speakers list.

Copyright 2023 NEWSnet and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.