U.N.: World water crisis deepening

Per-capita supply expected to drop by one-third over 20 years

PARIS, March 5 — World water reserves are drying up fast and booming populations, pollution and global warming will combine to cut the average person’s water supply by a third in the next 20 years, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

     The report, published ahead of the Third World Water Forum due to take place in Kyoto, Japan, from March 16 to 23, criticized political leaders for failing to take action and in some cases, disputing the very existence of a water crisis.

       “Water supplies are falling while the demand is dramatically growing at an unsustainable rate,” said Koichiro Matsuura, director general of the U.N.’s cultural agency, UNESCO, home to the World Water Assessment Program, which compiled the report.

       Water supplies per capita have fallen dramatically since 1970 and are set to continue declining, the report found.

       “Over the next 20 years, the average supply of water worldwide per person is expected to drop by a third,” Matsuura said in a statement.

       More than 2.2 million people die each year from diseases related to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation, the report said, but evidence of the problem was being ignored.

       “Inertia at leadership level and a world population not fully aware of the scale of the problem means we fail to take the needed timely corrective actions,” the report said.

       By 2050, water scarcity will affect between 2 billion and 7 billion people out of a projected total of 9.3 billion, depending in part on what measures political leaders take to tackle the crisis, the report said.


       Billed as the most comprehensive survey of the state of the resource, the report compared 122 countries for the quality of their water and their ability and willingness to improve it.

       Belgium got the lowest score, below less-developed countries including India, Sudan and Rwanda, which also ranked among the world’s 10 worst water providers.

       The report said Belgium’s low quantity and quality of groundwater were combined with heavy industrial pollution and poor treatment of wastewater. Top of the quality ranking was Finland, followed by Canada, New Zealand, Britain and Japan.

       The survey showcased the vast disparities in global water availability, which ranged from a low of 10 cubic meters per person per year in Kuwait to a high of 812,121 cubic meters per person per year in French Guiana.

       It also highlighted regional inequalities, pointing out that Asian rivers are the most polluted in the world.

       The poor remained the worst affected, with half the population in developing countries exposed to water sources polluted by sewage or industrial waste.


       The report also touched on the threat of conflict over water.
       One particular area of concern surrounds the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which rise in Turkey and flow through Syria before providing much of the water available to Iraq.
“Now, quite clearly, the water crisis or potential for conflict in that area is totally overshadowed by the present situation,” said Gordon Young, director of the World Water Assessment Program. “But that water crisis, I’m sure, is one factor underlying the general politics of that area.”
       The report is online at www.unesco.org/water.
© 2003 Reuters Limited. 

Originally from http://msnbc.com/news/880899.asp?0cv=CB20