Magazine article Insight on the News

Rising Population Faces Shrinking Water Supply

Magazine article Insight on the News

Rising Population Faces Shrinking Water Supply

Article excerpt

By 2025, the world population is projected to reach 8 billion. People will need more water, and private investment may be the only answer to problems of quantity and quality.

Glaciers are melting, floods account for half of the deaths by natural catastrophes ... water, water, seems to be everywhere. But in 25 years, if demand doesn't stop and management doesn't change, the people on this planet won't have enough water to drink, wash, irrigate cropland, generate electricity or supply industries.

"The arithmetic of water still does not add up," notes a new report of the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century. "In the next two decades, it is estimated that water use by humans will increase by about 40 percent, and that 17 percent more water will be needed to grow food for a growing population. In addition, the water demand for industry and energy will increase rapidly."

The commission, established by the World Water Council and cosponsored by UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other international groups, submitted its report to government representatives meeting at The Hague for a world conference on the water crisis. More than 3,000 policymakers, activists and businesspeople attended the six-day conference in March. The report is intended as a starting point for a worldwide campaign.

Ironically, although the oceans are expanding and vast storms have affected every continent in recent years, only 1 percent of the Earth's water is available for human use. The rest is either salty, stored in remote places or uncapturable -- as in the case of floods. Quantity is not the only problem, however. The crisis is aggravated by environmental degradation, especially in poor countries where the population is expected to grow most in the coming decades.

"The water crisis is bound to deepen the breach between developed and developing countries," says Bill Cosgrove, a member of the World Commission and World Water Vision, a think tank on the issue. "Rich countries can buy their way out of the problem. They are already investing billions of dollars in cleaning up pollution, whereas poor countries are faced with pollution and water shortage and they have no money to invest."

A quarter of the world's people, living mainly in developing countries, lack access to drinking water, and around 3 billion people lack sewage-treatment facilities. More than 3 million children die annually of water-related diseases such as diarrhea and fecal-oral infections, the world's greatest source of infant mortality. …

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