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In 25 Years, Half the World Will Be Short of Water

March 21, 2001
Posted to the web March 22, 2001 Baba Galleh Jallow
Washington DC The World Resources Institute in Washington DC has warned that the world's freshwater systems are in peril. It predicts that "by 2025, at least 3.5 billion people or nearly 50 percent of the world's population will face water scarcity." This is just one of the dire predictions being made public by several organisations to mark World Water Day. There is widespread and acute concern about the impending global water crisis. A report by the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) indicates that Africa will be particularly hard hit. The GEO says that while Africa has abundant freshwater resources in large rivers and lakes such as the Congo, Nile and Zambezi rivers, and the Great Lakes, "there are great disparities in water availability and use within and between African countries" because of the uneven distribution of the continent's water resources. The GEO predicts that by the year 2025, "25 African countries will be subject to water scarcity or water stress" and points out that already, "14 countries in Africa are subject to water stress or water scarcity, with those in Northern Africa facing the worst prospects." Over 300 million people in Africa lack reasonable access to safe water and adequate sanitation and in sub-Saharan Africa, only about 51 percent of the population have access to safe water, and 45 percent to sanitation. Recent floods in Mozambique, Malawi and other areas of Southern Africa have rendered sanitary conditions in that area even more precarious. GEO estimates indicate that by 2025, "up to 16 percent of Africa's population, (230 million people) will be living in countries facing water scarcity, and 32 percent (another 460 million) in water-stressed countries." In a similar report, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) also says there is already a massive water problem in the world. According to UNEP, polluted water affects the health of over one billion people worldwide every year; water-borne diseases - such as the cholera and dysentery currently rampant in southern Africa - kill an estimated three million people every year. UNEP warns that without better management of the world's water resources, many more human lives could be threatened in the very near future. The World Resources Institute report corroborates UNEP's finding that water-borne diseases are currently a major cause of death, particularly in poor areas of the world. The report ascribes much of the degradation of the world's freshwater systems to "habitat destruction, the construction of dams and canals, introduction of non-native (fish) species, pollution and over-exploitation" of water resources. According to the WRI, "analysis of existing freshwater studies reveals that more than 20 percent of the world's 10,000 freshwater fish species have either become extinct, been threatened, or endangered in recent decades." In a message to mark World Water Day, Khalid Mohtadullah, Executive Secretary of the Global Water Partnership, said: "1.4 billion people live without clean drinking water, 2.3 billion people lack adequate sanitation, 7 million die yearly from water-related diseases and half the world's rivers and lakes are seriously polluted." He called on governments worldwide to establish better water policies, laws and regulatory frameworks, put in place proper institutional structures for managing river basins and aquifers, facilitate the realignment of economic and financial practices with appropriate mechanisms to protect the poor, and establish mechanisms for strengthening river basin management. He revealed that his organisation has established a network of "regional partnerships" in South America, Central America, Southern Africa, West Africa, the Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia and China "to promote cross-sectoral dialogue on common water problems and to develop action plans to resolve these problems." Meanwhile, Libya's Muammar Qadafi, who is currently spearheading a campaign for African Union, has called on Arab businesses to invest in Africa's water resources and the tapping of the continent's "vast water reserves, lakes and rivers such as the Nile, Senegal and Congo rivers."

updated: 23 April, 2014