UN warns of water shortage by 2025Looming crisis to affect two-thirds of world populationThe Toronto Star03/22/2002VIENNA (AP) More than 2.7 billion people will face severe shortages of fresh water by 2025 if the world keeps consuming water at today's rates, the United Nations warned today in a report marking World Water Day.
Worldwide, about five billion people will be living in areas where it will be difficult or impossible to meet all their needs for fresh water, creating "a looming crisis that overshadows nearly two-thirds of the Earth's population," the report said.
It was released in Vienna by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a nuclear watchdog organization leading the United Nations' effort to draw attention to the world's water crisis and urge the launching of a "blue revolution" to conserve supplies and develop new ones.
"The simple fact is that there is a limited amount of water on the planet, and we cannot afford to be negligent in its use," said the agency's director, Mohamed ElBaradei. "We can't keep treating it as if it will never run out."
Already, an estimated 1.1 billion people have no access to safe drinking water, 2.5 billion lack proper sanitation and more than five million people die from waterborne diseases each year - 10 times the number of casualties killed in wars around the globe, the report said.
Less than three per cent of the world's water is fresh, and most of it is trapped in polar ice or buried underground in springs too deep to reach, it said.
Freshwater lakes, rivers and reservoirs may seem numerous but provide just a drop in the bucket, the report said.
"Even where supplies are sufficient or plentiful, they are increasingly at risk from pollution and rising demand," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a statement, warning that ``fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict."
The worst-affected areas are the deserts and semiarid regions of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where fresh drinking water is extremely scarce, in part because of the region's wildly variable climate and unfettered population growth, the World Meteorological Organization said.
Water ministers from 22 African countries have called for a regional and global alliance, backed by international funding, to tackle water and sanitation problems. Among the solutions, they say, are the development of desalination facilities that can turn salt water into drinking water.
Millions of women trudge long distances every day in search of water or send their children to look for it, meaning they miss opportunities to work, grow crops and attend school, the UN report said.
"Without adequate clean water, there can be no escape from poverty," said Klaus Toepfer, director of the UN Environment Program. "Water is the basis for good health and food production. Mankind is always at its mercy."
On the Net:
World Water Day, http://www.waterday2002.iaea.org
CP 0611ES 22-03-02