Experts are warning that half the world's population could face a shortage of clean water by 2080 because of climate change.
Wong Poh Poh, a professor at the National University of Singapore, told a regional conference, the two-day Asia Pacific Regional Water Conference, recently that global warming was disrupting water flow patterns and increasing the intensity of floods, droughts and storms, which reduce the availability of drinking water, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Wong said the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that as many as 2 billion people will not have sufficient access to clean water by 2050 a figure expected to rise to 3.2 billion by 2080—nearly tripling the number now without it.
Many in poor countries are forced to walk miles to reach supplies. Others, such as those living in urban shanties, suffer from diseases from drinking unclean water.
At the beginning of the decade, the World Health Organization estimated that 1.1 billion people did not have sufficient access to clean water.
Asia: Most Vulnerable
Wong, a member of the U.N. panel, said that Asia, home to more than 4 billion people, is the most vulnerable region—especially India and China, where booming populations have placed incredible stress on water sources.
"In Asia, water distribution is uneven and large areas are under water stress. Climate change is going to exacerbate this scarcity," Wong said.
"As human civilization develops, the environment is increasingly affected in negative ways. Floods, drought, changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures are signs of our misdeeds to nature," said Rozali Ismail, head of a state water association in Malaysia.
Call to Embrace Kyoto Protocol
As a short-term solution, Wong and others at the conference called on governments to embrace the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty to fight global warming and protect water resources.
Eventually, though, governments must build infrastructure to protect coastal areas, improve management of water basins and adopt new technologies to enhance availability and reliability of water resources, Wong said.
The U.N. is campaigning to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which regulates the emissions of 37 industrial countries, with another accord at a meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009.
In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was signed by 183 nations. But the United States, long the world's biggest emitter, rejected the plan because of concerns it would harm the economy.
Source: Associated Press, MSNBC.com