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Key water report urges prompt action

In the next 20 years, per capita world water supplies are projected to fall dramatically. Umanaka/UNEP
Worldwide, 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean water, and 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. In addition, 2 million children die annually due to preventable water borne diseases
A UN flagship report on global freshwater resources, the World Water Development Report (WWDR), launched in Istanbul on 16 March, urges swift action to avert a global water crisis.

“This report sounds an alarm. If we continue as we have been, we run the real danger of a global water crisis,” Koïchiro Matsuura, head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said at the official launch of the report.

Offering a comprehensive and authoritative review of the state of the world’s freshwater resources, the report is a collaborative effort of 26 UN agencies.

“Since the publication of the first report in 2003, I have constantly argued that unless we change our behaviour towards freshwater we will face a major water crisis,” Matsuura said.

The report, entitled Water in a Changing World, warns of additional pressure on water resources triggered by such factors as population growth and mobility, as well as climate change (For more information on the world’s water problems click here).

Boosting capacity to cope with climate change

“Water is the principal medium through which climate change will affect economic, social and environmental conditions. The report underscores the urgent need to strengthen capacity - especially in the poorest countries - to cope with more frequent and intense water-related disasters caused by climate change,” the UNESCO head said.

According to the report, the estimated cost of adaptation to climate change varies from US$37 billion - to $100 billion a year in several decades from now. Most of these investments will need to be made in developing countries where financial resources are limited.

“These costs may seem high, especially in the current economic context. However, the price of inaction will be much higher - in terms of lives lost, economies ruined and societies broken by conflict and mass displacement,” he said.

Food security

Pasquale Steduto, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Water, Development and Management Unit, noted recently that with agriculture being the number-one user of water worldwide (accounting for about 70 percent of all freshwater use), and with the world’s population set to grow by at least 3-4 billion in the next few decades, water resources will be under increased pressure, particularly for the production of food.

“The food crisis is not over,” Steduto said, adding that increased pressure on water resources to produce more food to feed more people would not ease the pressure on food prices.

The report notes that the production of one kilo of wheat requires 800-4,000 litres of water, and a kilogram of beef 2,000-16,000 litres.

“About 3,000 litres of water are needed to feed one person per day,” Steduto said, noting that multiplying that figure by the increasing population would give an idea of the magnitude of the issue.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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