World’s water supplies at risk, UN says

Surging population growth, climate change, reckless irrigation and chronic waste are placing the world’s water supplies at threat, a landmark UN report said on Thursday. Compiled by 24 UN agencies, the 348-page document gave a grim assessment of the state of the planet’s freshwater, especially in developing countries, and described the outlook for coming generations as deeply worrying.

Water is part of the complex web of factors that determine prosperity and stability, it said.

Lack of access to water helps drive poverty and deprivation and breeds the potential for unrest and conflict, it warned.

“Water is linked to the crises of climate change, energy and food supplies and prices, and troubled financial markets,” the third World Water Development Report said.

“Unless their links with water are addressed and water crises around the world are resolved, these other crises may intensify and local water crises may worsen, converging into a global water crisis and leading to political insecurity at various levels.”

The report pointed to a double squeeze on fresh water.

On one side was human impact. There were six billion humans in 2000, a tally that has already risen to 6.5 billion and could scale nine billion by 2050.

Population growth, especially in cities in poor countries, is driving explosive demand for water, prompting rivers in thirsty countries to be tapped for nearly every drop and driving governments to pump out so-called fossil water, the report said.

These are aquifers that are hundreds of thousands of years old and whose extraction is not being replenished by rainfall. Mining them for water today means depriving future generations of liquid treasure.


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