World water crisis looms, U.N. warns
A woman in India collects potable water provided by a solar-powered pump
March 22, 1999
Web posted at: 10:20 AM EST
Thirty percent of the world's population will face water shortages by the year 2050, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
However, this crisis could be averted at a cost of about $50 a person in rural areas and $105 a person in cities. This annual cost would prevent many of the 3.35 billion cases of illness and 5.3 million deaths caused each year by unsafe water, the agency reports.
The United Nations has launched a public relations campaign to spur people to take action to prevent the looming water crisis. The launch of the campaign coincides with the World Day for Water on Monday.
The United Nations estimates the overall price to bring low-cost, safe water and sanitation to all those who need it today in rural and low-income urban areas at $23-$25 billion.
The current investment is $8 billion a year, leaving a $15-$17 billion shortfall -- an amount roughly equal to annual pet food purchases in Europe and the United States.
"This is the absolute minimum that the world community must provide to the world's poor without water," said Hans van Ginkel, Rector of the United Nations University, an international community of scholars who promote the United Nations' aims of peace and progress.
With the increased funding, water can be brought to those who need it through low-cost technologies such as hand pumps, gravity-fed systems and rainwater collection.
In many countries, water shortages stem from inefficient use, degradation of the available water by pollution and the unsustainable use of underground water in aquifers.
The water crisis is so bad that, according to UNEP:
"Not only is the toll a human tragedy, but it means these people are less able to carry on productive lives, and this undermines social and economic development," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program.
- Every eight seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease;
- 50 percent of people in developing countries suffer from one or more water related diseases;
- 80 percent of the diseases in the developing world are caused by contaminated water;
- 50 percent of people on Earth lack adequate sanitation;
- 20 percent of freshwater fish species have been pushed to the edge of extinction by contaminated water.
The United Nations predicts that unless efforts are stepped up to bring water to those in need, wars over water will breakout.
"Conflicts over water, both international and civil wars, threaten to become a key part of the 21st century landscape," said van Ginkel.
Nearly 47 percent of the land area of the world, excluding Antarctica, falls within international water basins shared by two or more countries, the United Nations reports.
Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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