Press release from:
First UN system-wide evaluation of global water
Political inertia exacerbates water crisis, says
World Water Development Report
(CSRwire) Paris - Faced with inertia at the leadership
level, the global water crisis will reach unprecedented
levels in the years ahead with growing per capita scarcity
of water in many parts of the developing world, according
to a United Nations report made public today. Water resources
will steadily decline because of population growth, pollution
and expected climate change.
The World Water Development Report - Water for People,
Water for Life - is the most comprehensive, up-to-date
overview of the state of the resource. Presented on the
eve of the Third World Water Forum (Kyoto, Japan, March
16 - 23), it represents the single most important intellectual
contribution to the Forum and the International Year of
Freshwater (http://www.wateryear2003.org), which is being
led by UNESCO and the UN Department of Economic and Social
To compile the report, every UN agency and commission
dealing with water has for the first time worked jointly
to monitor progress against water-related targets in such
fields as health, food, ecosystems, cities, industry,
energy, risk management, economic evaluation, resource
sharing and governance. The 23 UN partners constitute
the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), whose secretariat
is hosted by UNESCO.
Of all the social and natural crises we humans face,
the water crisis is the one that lies at the heart of
our survival and that of our planet Earth, says UNESCO
Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.
No region will be spared from the impact of this crisis
which touches every facet of life, from the health of
children to the ability of nations to secure food for
their citizens, says Mr Matsuura. Water supplies are falling
while the demand is dramatically growing at an unsustainable
rate. Over the next 20 years, the average supply of water
world-wide per person is expected to drop by a third.
Despite widely available evidence of the crisis, political
commitment to reverse these trends has been lacking. A
string of international conferences over the past 25 years
has focused on the great variety of water issues including
ways to provide the basic water supply and sanitation
services required in the years to come. Several targets
have been set to improve water management but hardly any,
says the report, have been met.
Attitude and behaviour problems lie at the heart of the
crisis, says the report, 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
Many countries and territories are already in a state
of crisis. The report ranks over 180 countries and territories
in terms of the amount of renewable water resources available
per capita, meaning all of the water circulating on the
surface, in the soil or deeper underground (see chart).
The poorest in terms of water availability is Kuwait
(where 10 m³ is available per person each year) followed
by Gaza Strip (52 m³), United Arab Emirates (58 m³),
Bahamas (66 m³), Qatar (94 m³), Maldives (103
m³), Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (113 m³), Saudi
Arabia (118 m³), Malta (129 m³) and Singapore
The top ten water-rich countries (with the exception
of Greenland and Alaska) are: French Guiana (812,121 m³
available per person per year), Iceland (609,319 m³),
Guyana (316,689 m³), Suriname (292,566 m³),
Congo (275,679 m³), Papua New Guinea (166,563 m³),
Gabon (133,333 m³), Solomon Islands (100,000 m³),
Canada (94,353 m³), New Zealand (86,554 m³).
By the middle of this century, at worst seven billion
people in 60 countries will be faced with water scarcity,
at best 2 billion in 48 countries, depending on factors
like population growth and policy-making. Climate change
will account for an estimated 20% of this increase in
global water scarcity, according to the report. Humid
areas will probably see more rain, while it is expected
to decrease and become more erratic in many drought-prone
regions and even some tropical and sub-tropical regions.
Water quality will worsen with rising pollution levels
and water temperatures.
The water crisis is set to worsen despite continuing
debate over the very existence of such a crisis, says
the report. About 2 million tons of waste are dumped every
day into rivers, lakes and streams. One litre of wastewater
pollutes about eight litres of freshwater. According to
calculations in the report, there is an estimated 12,000
km³ of polluted water worldwide, which is more than
the total amount contained in the world’s ten largest
river basins at any given moment. Therefore, if pollution
keeps pace with population growth, the world will effectively
lose 18,000 km³ of freshwater by 2050 almost nine
times the total amount countries currently use each year
for irrigation, which is by far the largest consumer of
the resource. Irrigation currently accounts for 70% of
all water withdrawals worldwide.
The report ranks 122 countries according to the quality
of their water as well as their ability and commitment
to improve the situation (see chart). Belgium is considered
the worst basically because of the low quantity and quality
of its groundwater combined with heavy industrial pollution
and poor treatment of wastewater. It is followed by Morocco,
India, Jordan, Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central
African Republic and Rwanda.
The list of countries with the best quality is headed
by Finland followed by Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom,
Japan, Norway, Russian Federation, Republic of Korea,
Sweden and France.
The poor continue to be the worst affected, with 50%
of the population in developing countries exposed to polluted
water sources, says the report. Asian rivers are the most
polluted in the world, with three times as many bacteria
from human waste as the global average. Moreover, these
rivers have 20 times more lead than those of industrialized
The future of many parts of the world looks bleak, says
the report, in reference to projected population growth,
which will continue to be a driving factor in the water
crisis. Per capita water supplies decreased by a third
between 1970 and 1990, according to the report. Even though
birth rates are slowing down, the world’s population should
still reach about 9.3 billion by 2050 (compared to 6.1
billion of 2001).
Water consumption has almost doubled in the last 50 years.
A child born in the developed world consumes 30 to 50
times the water resources of one in the developing world.
Meanwhile water quality continues to worsen. Every day,
6000 people, mostly children under the age of five, die
from diarrhoeal diseases, says the report. These statistics
illustrate the enormity of the problems facing the world
with respect to its water resources, and the startling
disparities that exist in its utilization.
Against this background, the report takes an in-depth
look at every major dimension of water use and management
from the growth of cities to the threat of looming water
wars between countries. A single thread runs through each
section: the water crisis - be it the number of children
dying of disease or polluted rivers - is a crisis of governance
and a lack of political will to manage the resource wisely.
Globally, the challenge lies in raising the political
will to implement water-related commitments, says the
report. Water professionals need a better understanding
of the broader social, economic and political context,
while politicians need to be better informed about water
resource issues. Otherwise water will continue to be an
area for political rhetoric and lofty promises instead
of sorely needed actions.
With more than 25 world maps, numerous charts, graphs
and seven case studies of major river basins, the report
analyzes how diverse societies cope with water scarcity,
including policies that work or don’t work. It lays the
foundations through the World Water Assessment Programme
- for the UN to regularly monitor and report on the state
of the resource by developing a set of standardized methodologies,
data and indicators.
The report will be formally presented to the international
community on World Water Day, March 22nd, (www.waterday2003.org)
during the World Water Forum in Kyoto. A series of high-level
panel discussions will be organized to discuss the results.
Health and Economics
The 21st century is the century in which the overriding
problem is one of water quality and management, says the
report. More than 2.2 million people die each year from
diseases related to contaminated drinking water and poor
sanitation. Water vector-borne diseases also take a heavy
toll: about a million people die from malaria each year
and more than 200 million suffer from schistosomiasis,
known as bilharzias. Yet these terrible losses, with the
waste and suffering they represent, are preventable.
The international community pledged in the UN Millennium
Development Goals (2000) and at the World Summit on Sustainable
Development (Johannesburg, 2002) to halve the proportion
of people without access to safe drinking water and basic
sanitation by 2015. To achieve these targets, an additional
1.5 billion people will require improved access to water
supply (by 2015). This means providing services for another
100 million people each year (274,000/day) from 2000 to
The challenge for sanitation is more daunting, says the
report. An additional 1.9 billion people will need improved
access, which means another 125 million each year (342,000/day)
from 2000 to 2015. The report explains that cultural factors
further complicate the logistical and financial difficulties
in providing adequate sanitation.
If the current level of investment were maintained, all
regions in the world could reach or come close to both
goals, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, according
to the report. But in absolute terms, the investment needs
of Asia outstrip those of Africa, Latin America and the
Caribbean combined. It is estimated that the first interventions
would cost about US$12.6 billion.
Questions remain as to the source of this investment.
Financing the Millennium Development Goals will probably
be one of the most important challenges that the international
community will have to face over the next 15 years, says
The report outlines debates over water pricing and privatization.
Although it is considered essential to involve the private
sector in water resource management, according to the
executive summary of the report, it should be seen as
a financial catalyst not so much as a precondition for
project development . Control of the assets and the resource
should remain in the hands of the government and users.
The report also insists that any privatization or water-pricing
scheme must include mechanisms to protect the poor. A
disturbing fact is that poor people with the most limited
access to water supply have to pay significantly more
for water. In Delhi (India), for example, vendors charge
the poor US$4.89 per m³, while families with piped
connections pay just US$0.01, according to a survey published
in the report. In Vientiane (Lao PDR), vendors charge
$US14.68 per m³, compared to municipal tariffs of
About 25,000 people die every day from hunger, according
to the report. An estimated 815 million people suffer
from undernourishment: 777 million in developing countries,
27 million in countries in transition and 11 million in
The absolute number of undernourished people is reducing
at a much slower rate, says the report, despite the fact
that food production is satisfying the market demand at
historically low prices.
The international community has pledged through the Millennium
Goals (2000) to halve the proportion of people suffering
from hunger by 2015. However, this may not be achieved
before 2030 according to new findings presented in the
report. Previous estimates did not distinguish between
rainfed and irrigated crops. By factoring in this distinction,
the report presents more precise projections concerning
the water required to feed the world today and in the
According to these new calculations, another 45 million
hectares will be irrigated by 2030 in 93 developing countries,
where most of the population growth will take place. About
60% of all land that could be irrigated will be in use.
This will require an increase by 14% of irrigation water,
according to the report.
Of the some 170 countries and territories surveyed, 20
are already using more than 40% of their renewable water
resources for irrigation , a threshold used to flag the
level at which countries are forced to make difficult
choices between their agricultural and urban water supply
sectors, says the report. Another 16 countries use more
than 20%, which can indicate impending water scarcity.
By 2030 South Asia will on average have reached the 40%
level, and the Near East and North Africa not less than
By contrast, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and East
Asia are likely to remain far below the critical threshold.
These regions will see the bulk of agricultural expansion
in the next 30 years.
The challenge lies in improving efficiency of land and
water use. Irrigation is extremely inefficient close to
60% of the water used is wasted. This will only improve
by an estimated total of 4%. There is a tremendous need
to improve the financing of better technology and to promote
better management practices.
On a more positive note, average grain yields doubled
between 1962 and 1996, from 1.4 to 2.8 tons/hectares/crop.
This means that less than half the amount of arable land
is now required to grow the same amount of grain. By 2030,
it is expected that 80% of increased crop production will
come from higher yields, increased multiple cropping and
shorter fallow periods, says the report.
Towards 2050, the world could enjoy access to food for
all, says the report. The fact that 815 million are presently
ravaged by chronic undernourishment is not due to a lack
of capacity to produce the required food, but to global
and national social, economic and political contexts that
permit, and sometimes cause, unacceptable levels of poverty
According to the World Water Development Report:
Using treated wastewater could ease the water crisis.
Farmers already use this resource for about 10% of irrigated
land in developing countries and could use more. With
proper treatment, it can actually improve soil fertility.
Food security is improving globally. Per capita food consumption
in developing countries rose from 2,054 kcal per day in
1965 to 2,681 in 1998.
Pastures and crops take up 37% of the Earth’s land area.
About 10% of the world’s irrigated lands have been damaged
by waterlogging and salinization because of poor drainage
and irrigation practices.
By the year 2025, it is predicted that water withdrawal
will increase by 50% in developing countries and 18% in
developed countries, says the report. Effects on the world’s
ecosystems have the potential to dramatically worsen the
The report describes a vicious circle unleashed by growing
water demand. By depleting and polluting rivers, lakes
and wetlands, we are destroying ecosystems which play
an essential role in filtering and assuring freshwater
In the United States, 40% of water bodies assessed in
1998 were not deemed fit for recreational use due to nutrient,
metal and agricultural pollution. Furthermore only five
out of 55 rivers in Europe are considered pristine, according
to the report and, in Asia, all rivers running through
cities are badly polluted. 60% of the world’s 227 largest
rivers are severely fragmented by dams, diversions and
canals leading to the degradation of ecosystems.
Turning to the animal life of inland waters, the report
says that 24% of mammals and 12% of birds are threatened.
Between 34 and 80 fish species have become extinct since
the late 19th century, six since 1970. Only about 10%
of the world’s fish species, the majority from inland
waters, have been studied in detail, yet a third are at
International Conflict and Cooperation
As demand for water grows, there is much talk of looming
water wars. The report presents empirical data indicating
the contrary. While water scarcity will intensify conflicts
between states, there is little evidence to suggest that
these situations will explode into full-fledged water
The report highlights the findings of a study of every
single water-related interaction between two countries
or more over the past 50 years. Of the total of 1,831
interactions, the overwhelming majority, 1,228, were cooperative.
They involved the signing of about 200 water-sharing treaties
or the construction of new dams.
There is a total of 507 conflictive events. Only 37 involved
violence, of which 21 consisted of military acts (18 between
Israel and its neighbours).
Some of the most vociferous enemies around the world
have negotiated water agreements or are in the process
of doing so concerning international rivers, says the
report. The Mekong Committee, for example, continued to
exchange data throughout the Viet Nam War. The Indus River
Commission survived through two wars between India and
Pakistan. And all ten Nile riparian states are currently
involved in negotiations over development of the basin.
There are 261 international rivers basins, involving
145 nations. About one third of these basins are shared
by more than two countries, and 19 involve five or more.
According to the report, a good part of Africa and the
Middle East depend upon these shared resources for more
than half their water supplies as does the southern tip
of Latin America.
While much attention has been paid to international rivers,
groundwater supplies (aquifers) have been largely ignored,
despite the massive volumes of generally high-quality
water involved (estimated at 23,400,000 km³ compared
with the 42,800 km³ in rivers). Many decision-makers
are not even aware that they share aquifers with other
countries. The report presents the preliminary findings
of a UN initiative to compile the first global map and
inventory of these resources.
It also presents the first map of the world’s groundwater
resources. Aquifers store as much as 98% of accessible
water supplies. Between 600 to 700 km³ are extracted
each year, providing about 50% of the world’s drinking
supply, 40% of industrial demands and 20% of irrigated
agriculture, according to the report. These proportions
vary widely from country to country and are presented
in a detailed chart.
When infrastructure and services are lacking, urban areas
lacking water infrastructure are among the world’s most
life threatening environments, says the report. According
to a survey of 116 cities, urban areas in Africa are the
worst served, with only 18% of households connected to
sewers. The connection rate in Asia is just over 40%.
The poor of these cities are the first victims of sanitation-related
disease, flooding and even a rising rate of water-borne
disease like malaria, which is now among the main causes
of illness and death in many urban areas, says the report.
In South Asia, for example, the Anopheles stephensi mosquito
has actually adapted its breeding habits around the ubiquitous
rooftop water storage tankers.
From a public health perspective, says the report, it
is better to provide a whole city’s population with safe
supplies to taps within 50 metres of their home than to
provide only the richest 20% of households with water
piped to their home.
The report also outlines several reasons as to why cities
and towns should take priority over rural areas when choices
must be made. First, the unit costs of the required infrastructure
are lower because urban areas provide significant economies
of scale and proximity. Secondly, many cities have a more
prosperous economic base than rural areas, providing greater
possibilities to raise revenues for water provision. Thirdly,
urban areas concentrate not only people and enterprises
but also their wastes.
Today industry accounts for 22% of total water use in
the world: 59% in high-income countries and 8% in low-income
countries. The report predicts that this average will
reach 24% by 2025, when industry uses an estimated 1,170
Every year, 300 - 500 million tons of heavy metals, solvents,
toxic sludge and other wastes accumulate in water resources
from industry. More than 80% of the world’s hazardous
waste is produced in the United States and other industrial
Natural Disaster Risk
The report outlines the need to make risk reduction an
integral part of water resource management. While the
number of geophysical disasters like earthquakes and landslides
has remained fairly steady, the scale and number of water-related
events (droughts and floods) has more than doubled since
1996. During the past decade, 665,000 people were killed
by natural disasters. Over 90% lost their lives in floods
and droughts. 35% of these disasters occurred in Asia,
29% in Africa, 20% in the Americas, 13% in Europe and
the rest in Oceania.
Hydropower is the most important and widely used renewable
source of energy, providing 19% of total electricity production
in 2001. Industrialized countries are exploiting about
70% of their electricity potential, compared to 15% in
developing countries, according to the report. Canada
is the largest producer followed by the United States
and Brazil. Untapped hydro-resources are still abundant
in Latin America, India and China.
By developing half of this potential, we could reduce
greenhouse gas emissions by about 13%, says the report.
However, it also points to the many negative impacts of
dam construction, including displacement of local populations
and environmental damage (like loss of biodiversity and
World Water Portal
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World Water Portal http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/index.shtml,
to provide seamless access to a wide body of water information
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Executive Summary: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001295/129556e.pdf
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Chart: Water availability per person per year:
Chart: Water quality indicator values in selected countries: