A week-long international conference ended Sunday in Istanbul with a statement that recognizes access to safe drinking water as a "basic human need," but not a "human right," as some delegates had proposed.

The statement, coinciding with the United Nations' World Water Day, was issued at the end of a three-day ministerial meeting at the 5th annual World Water Forum in the Turkish city.

"We acknowledge the discussions with the UN system regarding human rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation. We recognize that access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a basic human need," the statement said.

Dissenting countries challenge declaration

The lack of binding protocols at the forum, held every three years to safeguard the world's freshwater supplies, prompted about 20 dissenting member countries to issue their own declaration, defining safe drinking water as a human right.

Countries that tried to beef up the wording of the official statement were blocked by Brazil, Egypt and the United States, Agence France Presse reported.

The Istanbul Ministerial Statement was adopted by ministers and heads of delegations from more than 150 countries. They agreed to better manage water resources, strive to prevent pollution of surface and groundwater and improve water-related monitoring systems.

The event was sponsored by the World Water Council, a group made up of water specialists and international organizations.

More than a billion people lack access to clean water, and 2.5 billion are without water for sanitation, the UN estimates.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts that by 2030, nearly half of the world's population will be living in areas with freshwater shortages.

The OECD says most of the people affected will live in China and South Asia.

Canadian funding announced for water monitoring

On Saturday, Canada's Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced the federal government could contribute $2.5 million over five years to the UN Environmental Program's Global Environmental Monitoring System (GEMS), in addition to the basic operating funding it already receives.

GEMS is a Canada-led United Nations water monitoring program that had been floating in cash-strapped limbo for the past three years.

The program used to receive a similar sized budget under the Liberals, but the Conservatives did not renew the full amount of funding when they came to power in 2006, spurring criticism from inside GEMS and from environmental advocates.

The system is based in Burlington, Ont., and tracks temperatures, metal content and other trends in inland water quality from 2,700 monitoring stations around the world.

Several UN agencies rely on the information, and the program offers training and advice for developing countries on how to set up water sampling programs.

With files from the Canadian Press