WARNING that 2.7 billion people face a critical shortage of drinkable water by 2025, the United Nations marked World Water Day yesterday with a call for a "blue revolution" to conserve and tap the seas for new supplies.
In fewer than 25 years, about five billion people will be living in areas where it will be difficult or impossible to meet all their needs for fresh water, creating "a looming crisis that overshadows nearly two-thirds of the Earth’s population", a UN report said. It was released in Vienna by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a nuclear watchdog organization leading the United Nations’ effort to draw attention to the world’s water shortage and the need to save water whenever possible.
Indian village women carry pots of water on their heads in Shampur village, 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Bhopal, March 22, 2002 on United Nations World Day for Water. The U.N. adopted a resolution in 1992 by which May 22 was to be devoted to promoting conservation and development of water resources. The women use a hand pump to draw water from underground and carry it four kilometers home, a scene repeated thousands of times a day across the dry continent. REUTERS/Raj Patidar
"The simple fact is that there is a limited amount of water on the planet, and we cannot afford to be negligent in its use," said the IAEA’s director, Mohamed ElBaradei . "We can’t keep treating it as if it will never run out."
Already, an estimated 1.1 billion people have no access to safe drinking water, 2.5 billion lack proper sanitation and more than 5 million people die from waterborne diseases each year - ten times the number of casualties killed in wars around the globe, the report said.
Less than 3 per cent of the world’s water is fresh, and most of it is trapped in polar ice or buried underground in springs too deep to reach, it said. Freshwater lakes, rivers and reservoirs might seem numerous but provide just a drop in the bucket, the report said.
"Even where supplies are sufficient or plentiful, they are increasingly at risk from pollution and rising demand," the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, said in a statement, warning: "Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict."
The worst-affected areas are the deserts and semiarid regions of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where fresh drinking water is extremely scarce, in part because of the region’s wildly variable climate and unchecked population growth, the World Meteorological Organization said.
"Without better management of water resources ... two-thirds of humanity will suffer from severe or moderate shortages by the year 2025," added Koichiro Matsuura, who heads the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Water ministers from 22 African countries have called for a regional and global alliance, backed by international funding, to tackle water and sanitation problems.
Among the solutions, they say, are the development of desalination facilities that can turn salt water into drinking water and the mapping of subterranean reservoirs. Ninety-eight percent of the world’s water is salty, and desalination is both time consuming and too costly for many developing countries.
Millions of women trudge long distances every day in search of water or send their children to look for it, meaning they miss opportunities to work, grow crops and attend school, the UN report said.
"Without adequate clean water, there can be no escape from poverty," said Klaus Toepfer, director of the UN Environment Program."Water is the basis for good health and food production. Mankind is always at its mercy."