Experts Predict Freshwater
Scarcity Is Coming World Crisis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Two scientists warned on Tuesday that world leaders would have to address highly sensitive political issues in the coming 30 years to avoid wars over scarce water resources.
Malin Falkenmark and David Schindler, who were awarded the 1998 Volvo Environment Prize on Tuesday, warned of looming freshwater shortages as population growth increased pressure on supplies that were dwindling because of waste and pollution.
Falkenmark, professor at the Swedish Natural Science Research Council, told a press conference the population of the world's cities was set to rise by over 2.1 billion -- the current population of China and India combined -- by 2025.
These people would all need water but unless the factories and farms created to provide them with incomes and food adopted environmentally friendly practices, they would pollute the very water supplies on which these people depended, she explained.
"We can see examples of cities collapsing in the developing countries because the water is no longer useable," she said.
Schindler, professor at Canada's Alberta university, warned that although the use of persistent organic pollutants like chlorine based pesticides and mercury was decreasing, at least in the West, climate change and depletion of the planet's protective ozone layer meant their effects on water, the environment and health were actually increasing.
Global warming, blamed on emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, was causing glaciers to melt, releasing the pollutant chemicals that had built up within the ice during the 1960s and 1970s, he said.
Falkenmark said that over the next 30 years the world needed to do three things to stave off a global water crisis.
Europe needed to be prepared to export six times more food to dry developing countries with high birth rates, she said. She said her research had shown that rainfall, already scarcer than in the rich north, evaporated more quickly in these dry southern countries, compounding their problems.
Secondly, industry and agriculture had to stop polluting water to the point that it became unuseable.
And crucially, politicians needed to address the conflict between the needs of populations living upstream of river basins and those dwelling downstream. "We cannot just ignore the problem just because it is politically sensitive," she said.
Inefficient irrigation meant people living downstream of China's Yellow River were deprived of water for 200 days a year, while new industries set up to boost population in upstream regions were polluting what resources remained.