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The Growing Threat of Major Fresh Water Shortages Worldwide
How it affects us and what we can do about it

According to scientists, the world is heading for a major water crisis by the middle of this century.

A very short history of water use
Water experts estimate that there is no more fresh water on Earth than there was 2,000 years ago, when Earth’s population was 3 percent of its current size.

For fifty years since 1940, global water use approximately kept pace with population growth. Over the past decade, use increased 4 to 8 percent a year in developing countries.

Growing demand threatens big shortages
According to experts at Sandia National Laboratories, more than half of the world’s nations face freshwater shortages by 2025. Seventy-five percent may face shortages by 2050.

Much of the world’s economic activity is based on available water supplies. According to Population Reports, published by the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, to “avoid crisis, many countries must conserve water, pollute less, manage supply and demand, and slow population growth.”

The role of pollution
The world’s supply of fresh water available for human consumption (including economic activity) is shrinking, mainly because many freshwater resources are increasingly polluted.

All of India’s major rivers are badly polluted, and three quarters of China’s major rivers cannot sustain fish, according to the Hopkins study. Agriculture, with its fertilizers and pesticides, is the greatest polluter - surpassing industries and municipalities.

A looming crisis
Polluted water, improper waste disposal, and poor water management also are associated with serious diseases including malaria, cholera, and typhoid. Although the Hopkins study concedes that ''it may be too late for some water-short countries with rapid population growth to avoid a crisis,'' it argues that without a coordinated response to the scarcity of water at local, national, and international levels, a water-related catastrophe by the mid-21st century seems unavoidable.

Conflicts over access to water are already brewing in Africa, Central Asia and South America. This could worsen with increasing shortages, leading to very destructive wars and refugee crises.

Water shortages impact the quality of human life, economic activity, and the environment

The role of governments
This situation is forcing the world’s governments to re-evaluate their water management.

In the face of growing concerns about dwindling water supplies; the UN moved decisively to address the increasing conflicts between countries with common borders along major river basins. This includes nations along the Nile, the Danube Basin, and in Central Asia.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is starting a Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA) with the support of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), which is a UN organization that helps developing countries fund projects and programs that protect the environment. Working closely with existing organizations, the project will elaborate the first assessment of its kind ever attempted on a global scale.

In its 2005 review of environmental sustainability, the United Nations set as a target to halve by 2015the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

In its 2008 report, the UN identified that 1.6 billion have gained access to safe drinking water since 1990. In spite of these gains, the process of conserving a non-renewable resource is not easy - especially one which is not easily and objectively valued, is not well-developed, and is not well-integrated into economic development planning. Innovative treatments will have to be used; treatments that use advanced membrane separation technologies as well as treatment of non-traditional water sources such as wastewater, brackish groundwater, seawater and extracted mine water.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Eastern Asia are behind in meeting their targets, and some stimulus is probably required if these targets are to be met.

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by Daniel Guerra, Hearts & Minds volunteer
Copyrights: Entire website 1997 - 2015 by Hearts and Minds Network, Inc. This web page - http://www.heartsandminds.org/poverty/water.htm - online July 9, 2009, latest changes July 9, 2009

 

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