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Israel may be going through the worst water crisis in its history, but it was commended yesterday, at an international conference on water in Istanbul, for leading the world in the use of recycled water.

The United Nations report presented at the 5th World Water Forum also ranked Israel as one of the world's leaders in desalinated water use. The report said the use of recycled water for irrigation is essential in many countries where clean water is in short supply.

As many as 1.4 million children around the world die each year as a result of drinking polluted water.

Israel recycles nearly 70 percent of its sewage water for agricultural use. Much of the remainder is treated, but not used for agriculture.

The UN report notes that water purifiation is particularly problematic in developing countries, where more than 80 percent of sewage flows to rivers and underwater reservoirs without first undergoing any treatment.

Even in more developed countries there are varying levels of wastewater treatment, irrespective of whether the treated water is reused. The report notes, for example, that in Turkey only 3.6 percent of sewage water is recycled, compared to 90 percent in Germany.

According to the report, many countries in the world have a plentiful supply of fresh water. In other areas, mostly in Africa and arid zones, the shortage is acute.

Poor water quality affects newly industrializing states, such as China, in particular. Nearly half of China's 21,000 chemical plants in China are located near two of the country's largest rivers in the country and pose a major threat of pollution.

The ten largest users of water in the world are India, the United States, Russia, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Indonesia and Japan.

Despite the praise for Israel in the UN report, Israel is still far from developed countries in terms of reducing domestic water consumption.

According to a report by Friends of the Earth, Middle East, the goal of 10-percent savings set by the Israel Water Authority is too low.

The environmentalist group points out in its report that a reduction of 30 percent in household water consumption is an achievable goal. It notes that many countries, including Spain, the U.S. and Australia, impose restrictions on water use even during non-drought years.