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Canada ranks No. 2 among water-rich countries



TORONTO (CP) -- Canada ranks No. 2 after Finland in a newly developed index that shows where the best and worst water situations exist in the world.


Although Canada is considered wealthy on the Water Poverty Index in terms of resources and access to water, it scores poorly in a subcategory on efficient use of water -- 19th from the bottom on a list of 147 countries.


On the domestic front, well-watered lawns and frequent showers and loads of laundry are taken for granted here. On the industrial side, the culprit is manufacturing plants that weren't designed to use water efficiently.


''That's partly because, I guess, up until now it hasn't been a scarcity for us, for one thing. The other is that in general in Canada, water is cheap,'' William Cosgrove, vice-president of the World Water Council, said in an interview from Paris.


''So we, for example, for domestic uses, consume 425 litres per person per day, more or less. The U.S. is the absolute worst on that. They're up around 680, but in countries in Europe, it's something around 250. And in the developing world, where water is scarce and people are poor, they learn to get by on three litres per capita per day.''


Cosgrove, who lives in Montreal, contributed to the development of the index, compiled by Caroline Sullivan and others at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, England.


The index, which was released Wednesday, will be discussed at the World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan, in March, where 10,000 government officials, water experts and industry leaders will look for solutions to a world water crisis.


In many developed countries, Sullivan said, ''manufacturing plants and agriculture systems have been designed in ways which are not really compatible with maximum efficiency of water use.''


''They are using water relatively inefficiently vis a vis the financial value of the outputs,'' she said from London.


Besides Finland and Canada, the water-rich countries rounding out the top 10 are Iceland, Norway, Guyana, Suriname, Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland.


The 10 countries at the bottom were Haiti, Niger, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Djibouti, Chad, Benin, Rwanda and Burundi.


Experts at the World Water Council, based in Marseilles, France, say that 20 per cent of the world's population in 30 countries faced water shortages in the year 2000. They warn that unless action is taken, the number of people living under the threat of water scarcity will rise to 2.3 billion in 2025.


The index assigned a value of 20 points as the best score for each of its five categories: resources, access, use, environmental impact and capacity, which measures a number of variables that define a country's ability to manage its water system.


Finland's overall score was 78 points, followed by Canada at 77.7. The United States was in 32nd place with a score of 65. Last-place Haiti scored 35.


Cosgrove said Canadians who draw their water from the Great Lakes basin should follow the European model.


In Europe ''they treat the water better before they put it back, they recycle it, they use less and use clean technology in their manufacturing systems,'' he said.


''Those are the types of things that we're going to have to start to do in that part of Canada and eventually we should learn it in the whole of the country.''


He acknowledged water resources are already scarce in parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta struck by drought this summer.


''And so there's been talk about moving water from other basins into that area in order to help the farmers who are there,'' he said.


''I like to think that through education of our next generation they're going to grow up being more aware of the value of water in all of its applications.''


Cosgrove said the index confirms that countries that are very poor also have very big water problems.


''It's a vicious circle for them. You need to have water for drinking, for sanitation, for industrial production.'


Canadians have nine per cent of all the world's fresh water, he said, and ''should thank God that they live in a country that's relatively well endowed with water and that we're wealthy enough to have access to it.''


'Hopefully they'll recognize that we have that blessing, that benefit.


'And think as Jimmy Carter just said in his acceptance address for the Nobel Prize, it's time that those countries that are over-wealthy, if you will, recognize the needs of the rest of the world.''


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