Here Comes The World
Water Crisis As
Population Explodes
By Donna Abu-Nasr
WASHINGTON (AP) Nearly half a billion people around the world face shortages of fresh water, and that number is expected to swell to 2.8 billion people by 2025 as the world population grows, according to a report released Wednesday.
"To avoid catastrophe ... it is important to act now" to reduce demand for fresh water by slowing population growth, conserving water, polluting less and managing supply and demand of water better, said the report from The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.
By 2025, one in every three of the world's projected 8 billion people will live in countries short of fresh water, the report said.
Today, 31 countries, mostly in Africa and the Near East, are facing water stress or water scarcity. By 2025, population pressure will push another 17 countries, including India, onto the list. China, with a projected 2025 population of 1.5 billion, will not be far behind, said the report.
A country faces water stress when annual fresh water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic meters per person. Water-scarce countries have annual fresh water supplies of less than 1,000 cubic meters per person.
Although much of the world is trying to meet a growing demand for fresh water, the situation is worst in developing countries where some 95 percent of the 80 million people added to the globe each year are born. In addition, the competition among industrial, urban and agricultural uses for water is mounting there, the report said.
"In many developing countries, lack of water could cap future improvements in the quality of life," said Don Hinrichsen, the report's lead author and a consultant with the U.N. Population Fund.
"Populations are growing rapidly in many of these countries, and at the same time per capita use must increase -- to grow enough food, for better personal health and hygiene, and to supply growing cities and industries," Hinrichsen added.
Yet there is no more fresh water on Earth now than there was 2,000 years ago, when the population was less than 3 percent of its current size, he noted.
Even in the United States, which has plenty of fresh water on a national basis, groundwater is being used at a rate 25 percent greater than its replenishment rate, said the report.
The report warned that regional conflicts over water could turn violent as shortages grow.
In Africa, Central Asia, the Near East, and South America, some countries are already bickering over access to rivers and inland seas. Even within a country, competition can be fierce. For example, the water in China's Yellow River is under so much demand that the river has dried up before reaching the ocean. In 1996, when there was enough water, the government ordered farmers not to use it; a state-run oil field further downstream needed it to operate.
The report said most countries need massive investments in sanitation and water supply infrastructure.
The United Kingdom, for example, must spend close to $60 billion building wastewater treatment plants over the next decade to meet new European water quality standards. Hungary will need to spend about $3.5 billion in the next two decades to connect all residences to wastewater treatment plants.
The report also warned that as people use more water, less is left for vital ecosystems on which humans and other species depend. Globally, over 20 percent of all freshwater fish species are endangered, vulnerable or have recently become extinct.
According to the report:
----California has lost over 90 percent of its wetlands during the past two centuries, causing two-thirds of the state's native fish to become extinct or be in decline.
----In Egypt, diverting water from the Nile has virtually wiped out some 30 of 47 commercial species of fish.
----Africa's Lake Chad has shrunk from 10,000 square miles to just 800 over the past 30 years through overuse and drought.
----Europe's Rhine River is so polluted that eight of its 44 fish species have disappeared and 25 others are rare or endangered.
----In Colombia, annual fish production in the Magdalena River has plunged from 72,000 metric tons to 23,000 metric tons in 15 years. A similar drop occurred in Southeast Asia's Mekong River.