summit: Water Crisis Kills 20,000 Children/Day
- Water security will be a key issue at the U.N.'s World
Summit on Sustainable Development under way in Johannesburg
until September 4. A follow-up to the Rio Earth Summit
of 1992, it aims to map out a concrete set of action plans
to reduce global poverty and the North/South income gap
in a sustainable way without inflicting irreparable damage
to the environment.
Its guide is the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) laid
out in the U.N.'s 2000 Millennium Declaration. It resolved
to halve, by 2015 the proportion of people who are unable
to reach, or to afford, safe drinking water. Following are
some facts and figures on the state of the world's water
supplies and the United Nation's goals regarding water.
ACCESS TO WATER: According to the United Nations' 2002
Human Development Report, 2.4 billion people in the developing
world lack access to basic sanitation and 1.1 billion
have no access to clean drinking water.
some estimates, preventable water-related diseases kill
20,000 children every day in the developing world.
COSTS: The World Bank says to meet the MDG's development
goals, around 300,000 people per day will have to be connected
to water systems over the next 10 years. The estimated
price tag is $25 billion a year.
CONSUMPTION: According to the United Nations, the world's
population tripled in the 20th century, leading to a six-fold
increase in the use of water resources. The three largest
water users in global terms are: agriculture, 67 percent;
industry, 19 percent; and municipal/residential, 9 percent.
SUPPLY: Freshwater ecosystems cover less than one percent
of the Earth's surface. Ice - mostly in the form of glaciers
- comprises 69 percent of the world's freshwater supplies
and groundwater is 30 percent. Wetlands, which include
marshes and swamps, comprise 0.3 percent, lakes 0.3 percent,
and rivers 0.06 percent. However, many experts argue the
wells are not about to run dry. They say on a global level
we have enough water but must use it more wisely and attempt
to address uneven distribution around the globe which
is related partly to different rainfall patterns.
PROBLEMS/ISSUES: The problems affecting the world's freshwater
supplies are many, including pollution from industry,
agriculture and untreated sewage. Poor infrastructure
is another major issue. According to the WWF environmental
group, 30 percent to 50 percent of water diverted for
irrigation purposes is lost through leaking pipes and
World Bank says inefficiencies in infrastructure mean
water that does not reach customers is wasted and ultimately
not paid for. This can lead to infrastructure decay because
of a lack of funding for maintenance and improvements.
Tariffs are often kept low by politicians seeking to woo
voters, leading many to advocate the privatisation of
water services - 95 percent of municipal water services
are publicly run - but this is controversial because of
concerns that the very poor could be denied access as
a result. The advocates of privatisation argue that services
will improve at lower costs as a result because the contracted
operators will have an incentive to improve their product.
DAMS: Dams have brought huge benefits to more than 140
countries but the social and environmental costs have
often been high. Perhaps 40 million to 80 million people
have been displaced globally by dam projects. Dams have
damaged aquatic habitats and blocked migration routes
for spawning fish species such as salmon. According to
a 2000 report by the World Commission on Dams, China and
India have half of the world's 45,000 dams. Dams account
for 19 percent of electricity generated worldwide, and
24 countries generate more than 90 percent of their power
SPECIES AT RISK: According to the WWF, of the 10,000 species
of freshwater fish that have been described, 20 percent
are threatened or endangered because of pollution, habitat
destruction, damming, over-fishing and the introduction
or invasion of alien species.
WWF says there have been 81 species of freshwater fish
have become extinct over the past century. The major proportion
of known extinctions resulted from the introduction of
the huge Nile perch into Africa's Lake Victoria, which
caused the loss of 50 endemic cichild species. But scientists
say the state of knowledge about freshwater fish is incomplete
so many species unknown to us may have become extinct
already. In addition to fish, the WWF says four of the
five species of river dolphin are at risk, two of the
three manatee species, about 40 freshwater turtles and
more than 400 types of freshwater crustacean.
HOT SPOTS/CONTROVERSIES THE ARAL SEA: The land-locked
Aral Sea, which straddles the former Soviet Central Asian
republics of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, is actually salt,
but its tragedy highlights the potentially disastrous
consequences of poor freshwater use. In the 1960s, Soviet
planners built a network of canals to divert the waters
of the rivers that fed the sea to irrigate cotton fields
in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
a result, the sea's life source was reduced to a trickle,
and it is shrinking and dying as a result. Once the world's
fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea has shrunk so much that
it is now split into two separate bodies of water - the
northern or little Aral Sea and a larger southern body.
once a thriving port town, is now 95 kilometres (60 miles)
from the coast.
CHINA/THREE GORGES DAM: China's Three Gorges Dam project,
the largest hydroelectric project in the world, was started
in 1993 and is expected to be completed by 2009. The project
has faced both domestic and local criticism.
than one million villagers along the Yangtze river are
being resettled to make way for the project and numerous
ancient relics will be submerged. Of China's 668 cities,
400 are short of water. Hundreds of millions of people
drink contaminated water and farmers have rioted in the
countryside over precious supplies.