2. How can everyone have sufficient clean water without conflict?
Today some700 million people face water scarcity (defined as less than 1,000 cubic metersper person per year), which could grow to 3 billion by 2025 due to climatechange, population growth, and increasing demand for water per capita. Waterstress (1,000–1,700 cubic meters per person per year) could affect half thecountries by 2025 and 75% of the world’s population by 2050. Without majorinterventions, the implications for future migrations and conflicts areenormous. Water tables are falling on every continent; 40% of humanity dependson international watersheds; one in 10 of the world’s major rivers fail toreach the sea for part of each year; agricultural land is becoming brackish;groundwater aquifers are being polluted; and urbanization is increasing waterdemands on aging water infrastructures faster than many systems can supply.
Waterwithdrawals from lakes and rivers have doubled in the last 40 years.Agriculture accounts for 70% of human usage of fresh water, which needs evenmore to feed growing populations. An increase in meat consumption in developingcountries further accelerates the demand for water per capita. Nature alsoneeds sufficient water to be viable for all life support. Hence, more freshwater is needed—not just distribution agreements. Breakthroughs indesalination, like pressurization of seawater to produce vapor jets, filtrationvia carbon nanotubes, and reverse osmosis, are needed along with less costlypollution treatment. There are some 15,000 desalination plants, and 75 more majorfacilities are in various stages of development.
Futuredemand for fresh water could be reduced by saltwater agriculture on coastlines,producing meat from stem cells without growing animals, and increasingvegetarianism. Many factors that influence water supply are beyond the controlof water managers; nevertheless, we still need an integrated global waterstrategy and management system to focus knowledge, finances, and political willto address this challenge. It should apply the lessons learned from producingmore food with less water via drip irrigation and precision agriculture,rainwater collection and irrigation, watershed management, selectiveintroduction of water pricing, and replication of successful community-scaleprojects around the world. The plan should also help convert degraded orabandoned farmlands to forest or grasslands; invest in household sanitation,reforestation, water storage, and treatment of industrial effluents inmultipurpose water schemes; and construct eco-friendly dams, pipelines, andaqueducts to move water from areas of abundance to scarcity. Access to cleanwater and basic sanitation should become human rights.
The UNdeclared that 2008 is the international year of sanitation. The Water Supply& Sanitation Collaborative Council launched the Global Sanitation Fund toincrease funding to address this challenge. Meeting the MDG goal on sanitationwould cost $38 billion and yield $347 billion worth of benefits—much of itrelated to higher productivity and improved health. About 80% of diseases inthe developing world are water-related. Many are due to poor management ofhuman excreta. Some 1.8 million people die every year due to diarrhea, of whom90% are children under the age of five. About 2.6 billion people (40% of the world)lack adequate sanitation. Unless major political and technological changesoccur, future conflicts over tradeoffs among agricultural, urban, andecological uses of water are inevitable. Previously, water-sharing agreementshave occurred even among people in conflict and have led to cooperation inother areas.
Challenge 2will be addressed seriously when the number of people without clean water andthose suffering from water-borne diseases diminishes by half from their peaksand when the percentage of water used in agriculture drops for five years in arow.
Africa: Upto 250 million Africans could live in water-stressed areas by 2010. Populationgrowth and climate change could cut water per person in Middle East and NorthAfrica in half by 2050. Africa loses about $28 billion annually due to the lackof safe water and basic sanitation. Sub-Saharan Africa would have to triple itsfreshwater access to meet its MDG target on water by 2015, but few Africangovernments spend more than 0.5% of GDP on water and sanitation. Withone-third of the world’s major international water basins, Africa uses lessthan 6% of its renewable water resources. Since the majority of Africa dependson rain-fed agriculture, upgrading rain-fed systems and improving agriculturalproductivity will immediately improve millions of lives. Algeria launched theconstruction of 12 desalination plants to be built by 2010.
Asia and Oceania: More than 70% of China’s waterways and 90%of its groundwater are contaminated; 33% of China’s river and lake water isunfit for even industrial use. The water situation in China is expected tocontinue to get worse for the next 7–10 years under the best of conditions. TheWorld Bank estimates that China loses 5.8% of its GDP due to air and waterpollution. With only 8% of the world’s fresh water, China has to meet the needsof 22% of the world’s population. The northern areas produce 45% of nationalGDP but contain less than 20% of China’s water; projects are under way to transportwater from the south to the north. Forced migration due to water shortages hasbegun in China, and India should be next. The Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Ganges,and Indus are among the 10 most polluted rivers in the world. India feeds 17%of the world’s people on less than 5% of the world’s water and 3% of itsfarmland. India’s urban water demand is expected to double and industrialdemand to triple by 2025. Diarrhea causes some 450,000 deaths annually inIndia. Saltwater intrusion into Bangladeshi coastal rivers reaches 100 milesinland. Israel’s Ashkelon plant reduced desalination costs to less than 50? percubic meter of water.
Europe: Cyprus, Bulgaria, Belgium, Spain, Malta, FYRMacedonia, Italy, the UK, and Germany can be considered water-stressed; 14% ofthe EU population has been affected by water scarcity. Over 80% of the originalfloodplain area along the Danube and its main tributaries has been lost as aresult of dams, pollution, and climate change. The Belgian governmentrecognizes water as a human right, and its development aid will focus on water.Water utilities in Germany pay farmers to switch to organic operations becauseit costs less than removing farm chemicals from water supplies. Russia couldsupply fresh water to China and Middle Asia and is seeking new technologieslike nanotech to improve water quality. Over 1 million people drink pollutedtap water in Ireland.
Latin America: Glaciers in Peru could disappear in 25 years,risking the country’s water security. The World Bank set up a $33-million fundfor Andean countries for adaptation to rapid glacier retreat. Although theregion has 28% of the world’s water resources, almost 80 million people do nothave access to safe drinking water and 120 million lack sewage treatment. Watercrises will occur in megacities within a generation unless new water suppliesare generated, lessons from both successful and unsuccessful approaches toprivatization are applied, and legislation is updated for more reliable,transparent, and consistent integrated water resources management. Water andsanitation problems cost the region an estimated $29 billion a year.
NorthAmerica: At least 36 states in the U.S. are expected to face water shortageswithin the next five years. Each kilowatt-hour of electricity in the U.S.requires about 25 gallons of water for cooling, making power plants the secondlargest water consumer in the country after agriculture. Over the past fiveyears, municipal water rates have increased by an average of 27% in the U.S.and 58% in Canada. Water could become a class problem; poor people will be thefirst victims in free market distribution. Government agricultural watersubsidies should be changed to encourage conservation.