faces crisis over fresh water
Eric McGuinness, Environment Reporter
The Hamilton Spectator
Experts say the whole world -- including
the Great Lakes Basin -- faces a crisis over the supply
and quality of fresh water for drinking, growing food and
manufacturing. Canadian Environment Minister
David Anderson told participants in a global conference
in Hamilton this week that "water will be overwhelmingly
the issue of the 21st century, of the 100 years we are entering."
Margaret Catley-Carlson, a former Canadian diplomat who
now heads the Global Water Institute, helped explain why.
She noted that water tables are dropping and major rivers
such as the Colorado -- which carved the Grand Canyon
-- and the Yellow River, the cradle of Chinese civilization
-- now dry up before reaching the sea.
She said one billion people lack consistent access to
fresh water, two billion have no access to sanitation,
many freshwater species are in peril as deltas and wetlands
disappear, and water quality is declining everywhere.
Increasing population and increasing urbanization will
make the situation worse in coming years.
Herb Gray, former federal cabinet minister and now co-chair
of the Canada-U.S. International Joint Commission, listened
to the gloomy statistics, then told Catley-Carlson her
presentation "scared the hell out of me."
Michael Donohue, president of the Great Lakes Commission
-- whose members include Ontario, Quebec and the eight
U.S. lake states -- said developing countries face the
most desperate problems, but the word crisis applies also
to the developed world, "specifically the Great Lakes-St.
While the Great Lakes Basin is one of the world's wealthiest
places, holds a fifth of Earth's fresh surface water and
has sophisticated governance systems, it faces threats
to divert, export or otherwise consume water to an extent
beyond its sustainable capacity.
Toxic hot spots threaten present and future residents,
and air quality is so bad that the atmosphere is now to
blame for more lake pollution than drain pipes, which
used to be the bigger problem.
One of the conference's goals is to produce a statement
to be sent to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable
Development in Johannesburg at the end of August.
Anderson said the conference here on sustainable transboundary
coastal ecosystems is an important lead-in to the summit
which needs "a clear, concrete, action-oriented agenda"
because "water and management of water systems and protection
of watersheds have to be on the shortest of short lists."
Ugandan scientist William Michael Kudoja, who works on
issues involving Lake Victoria, the world's second-largest
freshwater lake, cited the 1996 world food summit in Rome
and said, "We need to address water issues similarly."
He said there should be as much emphasis on water issues
as on AIDS in developing countries.
"Water is life. It should be at the top of the agenda."
Catley-Carlson pointed out that water isn't even included
in the New Plan for African Development (NEPAD), drafted
by African leaders and up for discussion at this week's
G-8 meeting in Kananaskis.
Kudoja said, "I weep," and Catley-Carlson said, "We weep
The Managing Shared Waters conference has drawn more
than 400 people from 30 countries to the Hamilton Convention
Centre. It is sponsored by Pollution Probe, Coastal Zone
Canada and the Hamilton-based United Nations University
International Network on Water, Environment and Health.
It winds up Friday.
You can contact Eric McGuinness at email@example.com
or at 905-526-4650.
Managing Shared Waters conference site
Global Water Partnership
UN University, International Network on Water, Environment
Johannesburg Summit 2002
Great Lakes Commission
International Joint Commission