of World's Population Faces Water Shortages
NEW YORK, New York, August 14, 2002 (ENS) - Global
water use has increased six-fold over the last century,
twice the rate of population growth, and agriculture represents
70 percent of this consumption, the United Nations reports
in advance of the World Summit on Sustainable Development
(WSSD). People across the world are dying from hunger
as drought shrivels crops again this year.
The report, "Global Challenge, Global Opportunity,"
underscores the need for greatly increased efforts to
support sustainable development to better manage global
At present, 40 percent of the world's population faces
water shortages, and water is one of the five key issues
earmarked by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as central
to the negotiations at the two week summit which opens
in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 26.
The other four key issues are all linked in some way
with water: energy, agricultural productivity, biodiversity,
and human health.
"'Global Challenge, Global Opportunity' highlights the choice
we face between two futures," said Nitin Desai, secretary-general
of World Summit on Sustainable Development at the UN Department
for Economic and Social Affairs, which published the report.
"If we do nothing to change our current indiscriminate
patterns of development, we will compromise the long term
security of the Earth and its people," Desai said.
Despite some recent improvements in the field of water
and sanitation, one billion people still lack access to
safe drinking water. By 2025, half of the world's population
- 3.5 billion people - will face serious water shortages,
particularly in North Africa and West Asia, as groundwater
supplies are consumed faster than they can be replenished,
the UN reports.
"At Johannesburg," said Desai, "we have an opportunity
to build a more secure future, by embracing a more sustainable
form of development that will improve lives today, and
build a better world for our children and grandchildren."
The greatest drain on the world's fresh water supplies
is inefficient agricultural irrigation systems, which
lose about 60 percent of the water they transport, according
to the new study.
The expansion of agricultural lands is the cause of
almost all global deforestation and the single greatest
threat to biodiversity and ecosystems, the UN says.
For much of Africa, gripped by drought, access to sanitation
and water delivery facilities will need to be tripled to
reduce by half the number of people without access to both
clean water and adequate sanitation by 2015, a Millennium
WWF, the conservation organization, today issued a study
providing this estimate and calling for better management
of rivers and the lands that drain into them, not just
more infrastructure, as the only path to sustainable development
and poverty alleviation in Africa.
"Freshwater Trends and Projections: Focus on Africa,"
says Africa has experienced the largest population rise
between 1990 and 2000 of any region, but the continent
still has the lowest total water supply coverage of anywhere
in the world.
"Even the loftiest, most well meaning goals for water
access and sanitation will remain insignificant if investment
in the health of rivers as the source of water for people
and nature continues to be ignored," said Jamie Pittock,
director of WWF's Living Waters Programme.
"Sustainability has hardly been addressed to the degree
needed since the last Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro a
decade ago," Pittock said.
The Indian subcontinent too, is gripped by the worst
drought in many years. The drought situation persists
in 12 of India's 29 states, and the Indian government
indicated on August 8 that almost the entire country was
hit by drought, except for the flooded northeastern districts
The recovery of some crops could only be possible if
it rains across India before mid-August. Industry groups
fear a serious recession and predict the drought could
take one percentage point off annual economic growth in
the current fiscal year. As a result of scanty rainfall,
the Indian Power Ministry fears inevitable power cuts
as hydroelectricity generation is affected.
Fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions continued to
rise in the 1990s, particularly in Asia and in North America,
the new UN report confirms. Signs of climate change linked
to global warming are also more apparent - such as the increase
in frequency and intensity of droughts in parts of Asia
and Africa. This is particularly true for the summit's host
country, South Africa, which, along with several neighbouring
countries, is currently experiencing severe drought.
At the same time, millions of people in southern Africa
continue to face extreme food shortages. The aid agency
Oxfam says the primary cause of the current food shortage
in Malawi is the regional phenomenon of cyclical drought
combined with sporadic flooding. This has led to 3.2 million
people having insufficient food to eat and many are already
reaching a stage of near destitution.
In Zambia, four million people have insufficient food
and 2.3 million people are in immediate need of food aid.
In Zimbabwe, drought and political upheaval has reduced
food supplies for nearly half the country's population.
Half a million pastoralists in the Afar region of Ethiopia
are suffering from a severe drought and need international
assistance, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said
August 5. Cattle and camels have started dying in the
region, where the situation has been aggravated by recent
fighting over grazing land and water between population
groups, forcing hundreds of people to leave their home
Demand for food is rising as the world population grows,
and the capacity of food production to keep pace is diminishing,
especially in developing countries.
"A top priority at the Summit is the need to agree on
policies and programs that improve agricultural yields
in order to meet our long term food needs," said Desai.
"Equally pressing is the goal of expanding sustainable agricultural
practices, including the introduction of efficient irrigation
systems. At Johannesburg, a new initiative will be launched
by the Food and Agriculture Organization involving various
governments and NGOs, with the aim of stimulating these
advances in the way we produce food."
There is some good news in the UN's "Global Challenge,
Global Opportunity" report. Access to safe drinking water
and sanitation improved gradually in the 1990s, and the
goal of a 50 percent reduction in child mortality due
to diarrhoeal diseases, adopted at the World Summit for
Children in 1990, has been achieved, with child deaths
decreasing from 3.3 million in 1990 to 1.7 million in
Some evidence of sustainability is emerging in strategically
important areas around the world. Two percent of forests
worldwide have now been certified for sustainable logging
practices. Nature reserves, parks and sanctuaries are
expanding, and now amount to five percent of total land
mass in Europe, and 11 percent in North America, safeguarding
the fresh water supply, and providing a basis for the
rapidly growing global eco-tourism industry.
"Johannesburg seeks to build on the advances at Doha
and Monterrey by arriving at a consensus on how the international
community's increased funding for development should actually
be deployed," said Desai. "Global living standards will
only be improved now and in the long term if these resources
are allocated on a genuinely sustainable basis."
"World leaders must come to Johannesburg ready to embrace
a new approach to global development, and most importantly,"
Desai said, "to support this goal with concrete commitments."