Report Warns: Water Crisis in the Future

Jan. 27, 2003

Within 50 years, more than half of the world's population will live with water shortages, a United Nations report warns. The United Nations Environment Program, worked with more than 200 water resource experts worldwide to produce the report. The population will be living with water shortages, depleted fisheries and polluted coastlines, according to an article in USA Today.

What will be to blame? Inadequate waste and water management, particularly in poverty-stricken areas. ''Tens of millions of people don't have access to safe water,'' said Halifa Drammeh, who coordinates the U.N. program's water policies. "It is indeed a crisis."

The wide-ranging report, part of the United Nations' designation of 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater, also documents problems such as steep drops in the size of Asia's Aral Sea, Africa's Lake Chad and Iraq's marshlands; and the rise of coastal waters because of climate changes.

If drinking water systems are not fixed, developing nations will be forced to face a decrease in crops, water shortages and conflict over lakes and rivers, reported the article. Prevention of wasteful irrigation and reservoir evaporation will be key to changing the future.

Points from the report included

* Severe water shortages affecting at least 400 million people today will affect 4 billion people by 2050. Southwestern states such as Arizona will face other severe freshwater shortages by 2025.

* Sanitation facilities are lacking for 2.4 billion people, about 40 percent of the world's population.

* Half of all coastal regions, where 1 billion people live, have degraded through over development or pollution.

Other findings concerning oceans and seas included

* Coral reefs, mangrove forests and sea grass beds, important grounds for young fish and for environmental needs, face threats from over fishing, development and pollution.

* Oxygen-depleted seas, caused by industrial and agricultural runoff, could lead to fishery collapses and ''dead zones'' in such places as the Gulf of Mexico.

* Fish catches are leveling off worldwide. With 75 percent of fish stocks fully exploited, fleets have turned to fish lower on ocean food chains. Ecologists worry that entire fisheries will collapse as these ''junk fish'' are used up. Increased demand for fish is being made up through aquaculture, which brings other environmental concerns.

Poverty is blamed for much of the problem, said Chuck Howe, a water resources economist at the University of Colorado-Boulder. About 90 percent of the severe problems are in developing nations, he says, where solutions to wasting water lie in better irrigation and water supply practices.

Drammeh hopes the report helps mobilize support for international organizations brokering water and fishery agreements that encourage better water management among nations. Developing regions don't need more dam-building projects, he says, but more people trained to manage water systems.


USA Today