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Study Warns of Major Water Shortage in 20 Years - 2003-01-26

A new study by two agricultural research groups warns that within 20 years there won't be enough water for cities, households, the environment or agriculture without major reforms in water use policies. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports in her series on the world water crisis.

Global Water Outlook 2025: Averting an Impending Crisis, uses sophisticated computer modeling to project how water demand and availability around the world are likely to evolve. The report includes global, regional and country-level data.

"First of all if we continue with business as usual, we are going to see that increasing competition for water from these other sectors is going to really take a lot of water away from irrigation, and we are going to see shortages of food production and perhaps rising prices and declining yields," says lead author Mark Rosegrant, a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute, a Washington-based non-profit organization that promotes sustainable solutions to global hunger and poverty. "But at the same time," he continued, "even though we are getting rapid increase in urban uses such as domestic and industrial uses, we are not seeing improvements in water quality. We will continue to see declines in water quality, and even very little inadequate increases in the number of people that have access to safe water."

Mr. Rosegrant says that if the world follows this scenario, it will be impossible to meet the United Nations declared goal of reducing by half the number of people without clean and safe water by 2015. "What I think is most scary is that if you see an increased complacency by policy makers," he said. "You could go from this growing negative situation to a real serious water scarcity crisis where you have a breakdown in domestic and industrial water supplies in some of the big mega-cities in the third world. And [the model predicts] a real decline in water use and rapidly rising prices to the poor for food as well."

According to Mr. Rosegrant, a crisis is avoidable if appropriate water management policies and technologies are put in place. "What has to happen is a rethinking of the way we manage water. Certainly we do need increased investments in hardware and infrastructure, particularly to expand use of water for household, domestic and industrial uses in cities. There are a few dams for irrigation that are still worth building," he said. "But the real key will be to get more water out of the water we already have, to increase the efficiency of that water in all its uses."

The report also recommends pricing water to reflect its true cost and value. Requiring people of means to pay for their water would create an incentive for them to conserve it. It would generate the needed financial resources to provide water to those too poor to purchase it.

"The world can both consume less water and reap greater benefits," said Mr. Rosegrant. But "to achieve sustainable water use, we must act now. The required strategies take not only money and political will, but time as well."