12 March 2009

World water supply under pressure

Next week the World Water Forum will discuss the increasing problems of fresh water in a world where the population growth is driving higher demands on water.

The world's fresh water is a finite commodity, but growing demands for it are tearing the world apart between those who call for a human right for water and others who uphold water privatisation in order to better serve communities around the world.

Next week in Istanbul, the Turkish government will host a World Water Forum to discuss the increasing problems of fresh water in a world where the population is growing and consumers in developing countries are driving more demands on water.

Activists called for enabling water access as a human right, claiming that the forum is geared to strengthen water privatisation at the expense of those deprived of access to daily fresh water.

Population, lifestyle factors
Growing population, the economy and lifestyle and consumption patterns are the main drivers in water consumption. "History has shown a strong link between economic development and water resources development," said a report released by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the Istanbul forum.

In addition to natural causes that deplete water resources are human activities that have become the primary drivers of pressure on the earth's water system, the report said. The world population is growing annually by nearly 80 million people, who demand an additional 64 billion cubic metres of water a year. The world population today stands at 6.8 billion and is projected to increase to 7 billion by 2012 and to more than 9 billion by 2050, according to UN estimates.

Eating habits
The UNESCO report provides a simple calculation to illustrate the impact of eating habits and food production on water. A Chinese who ate 20kg of meat in 1985 would eat more than 50kg in 2009, requiring more grain to feed livestock and more water to produce that grain.

It assumes that one kilogram of grain requires 1 000 litres of water to produce. China has a population of 1.3 billion people. But similar calculations apply to all countries in the world as many societies have become more affluent, driving up consumption patterns, including water. "As this example suggests, lifestyles and consumption patterns are, in essence, the sum of all drivers," the report said.

"The major challenge is to reconcile human needs and human wants with the ability of nature to provide or replenish the resources to produce them," it said. It called on humans to recognise and understand the impacts of their actions on the sustainability of the natural environment. The report said global economic expansion has increased the number of consumers, who in turn increase water demands.

Demand grows
Emerging economies in China, India, Brazil and Russia - which the New York-based financial group Goldman Sachs said would overtake in 2032 the combined economies of the world's seven most industrialised nations - are an example of the growing demands on water.

Even in sub-Saharan countries experiencing annual growth rates of 6%, from dependence on oil and commodity trade, demands for fresh water are expected to grow.

The report called for the management of water and water systems to achieve social and economic development and to sustain development. "The challenges are great, but unsustainable management and inequitable access to water resources cannot continue," the report said.

The UN said more than a billion people around the world still lack access to water and sanitation, a condition that aggravates their health, particularly in regions where healthcare systems are not functioning. – (Sapa, March 2009)

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