MORE than half the world’s five million lakes and reservoirs face huge ecological threats that are endangering the global environment, experts have warned.
The lakes, which hold nearly 90 per cent of all liquid fresh water on the Earth’s surface, are dwindling fast because of the growing demand for water. The decline is expected to increase as the world population grows from the current five billion to around seven billion by 2025.
If we are to establish a harmonious, dispute-free 21st century, it is fundamentally essential that people of the Earth eliminate the fearsome, life-threatening specters of water shortages, water-based food contamination, unsanitary living conditions and flood dangers.
former Japanese Prime Minister
The overuse of lake water for irrigation and contamination by toxins and nutrients from industry, farms and sewage are the major causes of the decline. These problems have led to falling water levels, acidification and invasions of non-native plants and animals.
Hideaki Oda, the secretary general of the Third World Water Forum, said: "Lakes are the most vulnerable and difficult to restore of all natural ecological systems, but they have been widely ignored even as they have deteriorated.
"Until now, policy makers have focused on rivers, tidal basins and oceans, excluding a discussion of lakes and the possible danger to humans that this portends."
Mr Oda was speaking at the Ninth International Conference on the Conservation and Management of Lakes, which is being held this week in Otsu, Shiga, Japan, to discuss measures to prevent the ecosystem from deteriorating and to protect drinking water supplies.
Lakes in both industrial and developing countries are endangered, though rich countries have the resources to begin adapting policies to save their water supplies.
Masahisa Nakamura, director of the Lake Biwa Research Institute in Siga, Japan, told the conference: "Natural lakes, especially large ones, are of great economic, ecological and cultural importance, with at least one billion people depending directly on them for their livelihood and for drinking water.
"Specifically, lakes are a source of commerce, transportation, recreation, tourism and food and energy production. They also provide important habitat for a diverse array of plant and animal species."
Dr Richard Dixon, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said that on a global level there was a very serious problem with dwindling fresh water supplies. However, in Scotland the problem was not a lack of water but rather the growing number of polluted supplies.
He said: "We do have a number of lochs that are currently without fish because of the acidity of the water. We also have problems with algal blooms. They are both certainly serious problems we need to sort out."
Around 2,000 people from 78 countries and regions are attending the conference to discuss cultural and industrial evolution, the development of environmental education, drinking water and pollution, the littoral zone and its ecosystem, and circulating water.
This year’s conference, under the theme of Partnerships for Sustainable Life in Lake Environments, is the second time that delegates have gathered in Otsu. The first conference was held there in 1984 to provide an opportunity to recognize the importance of lake conservation around the world.
The conference, being held near Lake Biwa, which is Japan’s biggest freshwater lake, was initiated in the 1980s by then Shiga governor Masayoshi Takemura, in the wake of problems concerning Lake Biwa.
It is one of a series leading up to the Third World Water Forum, which is due to take place in Kyoto, Japan, in 2003. The forum hopes to stimulate global awareness of water problems, to help generate action from the debates and ideas centered on the World Water Vision, and to contribute to concrete solutions of world water problems.
Ryutaro Hashimoto, the chairman of the national steering committee of the 3rd World Water Forum and formerly Japan’s prime minister, said: "If we are to establish a harmonious, dispute-free 21st century, it is fundamentally essential that people of the Earth eliminate the fearsome, life-threatening specters of water shortages, water-based food contamination, unsanitary living conditions and flood dangers.
"Manifestations of water’s destructive face, such as floods and landslides caused by climate change, have been increasing year after year. In addition, population increase, industrial development and rapid urbanization have worsened water-related problems."
Earlier this month Professor Ishfaq Ahmad, special adviser to the president of Pakistan, called on all countries to work together to tackle the common problems of water management.
Copyright 2001 TheScotsman.co.uk