Despite recent good news that millions more people now have access to potable water, a new report finds sharply rising demands for water threaten a myriad of development goals.
Changing consumption patterns, rising food demands, rapid urbanization and climate change are piling pressure on our planet's water supplies. These are among the main findings of a report released Monday (March 12) by the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The findings will be debated at a major water meeting this week in the French port city of Marseille.
The study is not the first water warning. But Ulcay Unver, who coordinated the report, says water concerns tend to be too narrowly focused. "The crisis about water tends to be more local than global. And many of us, members of the general public, even decision-makers, fail to see the global picture, the global links from the local issues," he said.
Last week, the U.N. announced that nations have met a key millennium goal five years ahead of schedule - to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water. "We are talking about a very important component of water use. But it represents approximately 10 percent of water use. The rest is used for activities such as agriculture, industry. And there is also the aspect of dealing with the extremes of water, floods and droughts," said Unver.
The report finds these other water uses are increasingly problematic. Sanitation infrastructure, for example, has failed to keep pace with rapid urbanization. Farmers are using much more water today to grow food crops for our rising population, and new consumption habits like eating more meat. By mid-century, the report says, the world will need 70 percent more water than it uses today.
The U.N. predicts these competing pressures will heighten economic disparities and tensions among people and regions.
Each area faces its own set of water challenges. Africa needs to improve its water infrastructure and use its relatively abundant water supplies more efficiently.
Climate change will add more pressure to the already water-stressed Arab region. In Asia, the pressure is coming from rapid urbanization, economic development and industrialization. At the same time, a number of communities, from Ankara to Manila, are beginning to use water resources more efficiently.
The report's main message, the U.N.'s Unver says, is that water problems, and their solutions, must be looked at holistically.