STOCKHOLM - A spectre is haunting the cities and villages of mostdeveloping nations, warns a senior official of a World Bank-affiliatedorganisation.
“It’s the spectre of a food, fuel and water crisis,” says Lars Thunell,executive vice president of the Washington-based International FinanceCorporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank group.
“I believe we are at a tipping point,” he said, because the scarcityof water poses a threat to the food supply just when the agriculturalsector is stepping up production in response to riots over food prices,growing hunger, and rising malnutrition.
Speaking at the conclusion of the weeklong Stockholm InternationalWater Conference Friday, Thunell said the growing demand for water isoutpacing supply.
The world’s current population of over 6.0 billion is expected torise to about 9.0 billion by 2050, with more than 60 percent living inmega cities.
“Since water consumption goes up where there is development andimproved lifestyles, we can expect even greater demands on freshwater,” Thunell said.
The most water-intensive sector, agriculture, is expanding andindustrialisation and energy production are further driving demand, headded.
The conference, which was attended by over 2,400 water experts andgovernment officials, ended with an ominous warning: that water andsanitation are not far behind the food, energy and climate crises.
Summing up the weeklong proceedings, the Stockholm InternationalWater Institute said that slow progress on sanitation will cause theworld to badly fail the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Atthe same time, weak policy, poor management, increasing waste andexploding water demands will push the planet towards the tipping pointof a global water crisis.
According to U.N. estimates a little less than one billion peopleworldwide still don’t have access to clean drinking water while over2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation.
The MDGs aim at a 50 percent reduction both in the number of peoplewithout drinking water and without basic sanitation. The deadline hasbeen set at 2015. But most of the world’s poorer nations are likely tomiss the deadline.
Colin Chartres, director general of the International WaterManagement Institute (IWMI) said the causes of water scarcity areessentially identical to those of the food crisis.
“There are serious and extremely worrying factors that indicate thatwater supplies are close to exhaustion in some countries,” he said.
He pointed out that current estimates indicate the world will nothave enough water to feed itself in 40 years time, “by when the currentfood crisis may turn into a perpetual crisis.”
Chartres said he and his water science colleagues have raised awarning flag that significant investments in both research anddevelopment and water infrastructure development are needed, “if direconsequences are to be avoided.”
IFC’s Thunell said providing clean water and sanitation services arenot only business opportunities but also opportunities to improvelives. He said investors see an opportunity in the 450-billion-dollarglobal water sector, where stocks are performing strongly worldwide.
Private firms also regard water supply as a business risk and aretackling it as an integral part of their risk-management strategy.
“I believe the moment is right,” Thunell said. “We can avert a crisis — as partners, working together.”
He said IFC will do its part by investing in companies that pursueopportunities in water conservation and quality, and by fosteringpublic-private partnerships in the water sector.
But Patti Lynn, campaigns director of Corporate AccountabilityInternational, has a different take on the role of the private sector.
“The crisis stems from a confluence of problems, but perhaps nocontributing factor is more insidious and correctable than theprivatisation of the resource,” she told IPS. “When people’s access toclean drinking water is reliant on the profit interests of a handful oftransnationals, all of us pay a premium and because of this many of theworld’s poor go thirsty.”
Asked if the international community will meet the MDGs relating towater and sanitation by 2015, she said: “Not if we don’t changeimmediate course.”
For one, she said, the World Bank needs to stop making water privatisation a condition for their loans.
“If the Bank is truly interested in alleviating poverty, its conditions should take a longer view,” she said.
Keeping water under local, public and democratic control is the mostjust way to insure the greatest degree of water access for the greatestnumber of people, Lynn added.