The United Nations is launching the international "Water for Life Decade" to mark World Water Day today.

A message issued by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the world needs to improve water efficiency, especially in agriculture, as well as basic sanitation. He notes that millions of children die each year from water-borne diseases.

The launch of the "Water for Life Decade" will begin with a "Blessing of the Waters" at U.N. Headquarters in New York today.

Events to mark World Water Day this year include an art competition in Brunei, a walkathon in Canada and training for teachers and workshops in India.

The first water decade, designated by the United Nations from 1981-1990, brought water to more than one billion people and sanitation to almost 770 million.