Billion Asians could be parched in 24 years : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Wednesday May 9, 7:38 AM

Billion Asians could be parched in 24 years, say experts

HONOLULU, Hawaii, May 8 (AFP) -

A billion Asians risk being stranded high and dry as the global supply of fresh water recedes amid urbanization, a growing population and cross-border supply conflicts, experts said here.

Even "relatively privileged" countries such as the United States and Canada" are not going to be trouble-free over the next 50 years, said Harvard University environmental engineering professor Peter Rogers.

"International conflicts over water are likely to consume more and more of our time," he told an international symposium on the sidelines of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) annual meeting in Hawaii.

Rogers said the World Trade Organization "is likely to infringe more and more upon sovereign powers of nations' regulation of water quality, stoking trade wars and other conflicts."

The supply crunch could also revive old -- and introduce new -- water-borne diseases and lead to micro-pollutants from pharmaceuticals such as synthetic hormones getting through existing treatment facilities, he added.

Ainun Nishat, Bangladesh's country representative to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), said: "If all the earth's water fit in a gallon jug, available fresh water would equal just over a tablespoon -- about three-fourth of one percent of the total," he told the symposium. "The earth has virtually this same amount today as it did when dinosaurs roamed the planet," Nishat said.

Peter Gleick, of the Oakland, California based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, said "nearly three billion people live without access to adequate sanitation systems necessary to reduce exposure to water-related diseases." The 21st century dawned with "more than a billion people in the developing world lacking safe drinking water," he added.

Rogers said most countries now have regulations "to maintain sustainable flows of higher quality", but wondered whether these could withstand possible pressure amid an economic backlash.

"One-third of the world's population is living in countries experiencing medium water stress," Rogers said. "Asia has the lowest per capita availability of water, and by the year 2025 nearly one billion people in Asia will not have adequate access to water."

He said the explosion of urban populations as well as migration in the developing world would more than double the 1.7 billion people now poorly supplied with water and sanitation services. In the next half century the global population should grow until it stabilizes at around 9.3 billion, Rogers said.

He said high estimates for water use for the period "are becoming uncomfortably close to the estimated 13,700 cubic kilometers of potentially easily available water."

"Unfortunately, it looks as though the bulk of the developing countries will spend the next 50 years struggling to provide safe drinking water and sanitation to their burgeoning urban populations and enough irrigation water to maintain the high levels of food production needed to provide improving diets," he added.

During that period, "it is not expected that they will be able to restore and maintain their already damaged aquatic ecosystems."

Rogers noted that even in water-endowed North America, "international issues between the US and its neighbors are becoming increasingly tense with respect to water pollution and water withdrawals."

In Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, "issues of water resources management are increasingly important on Java and other islands," said Minister of Settlements Erna Witoelar.

With 60 percent of the country's population, Java's problems are overpopulation, water degradation and depletion, while in outlying islands there is also "degradation due to widespread deforestation and improper open-mining practices and newly opened plantations on the watersheds."

He said that "unless effectively addressed, it will increasingly constrain the country's economic development and food security."

Nishat of IUCN said South Asia's river systems should provide enough water to meet present and future demand, but that "distributing the water in proper time in proper amount or flow adjustment will be the prime issue of concern." He said dams "have been built from the nationalistic point of view."

Bangladesh's drinking water, derived from ground water, "has been contaminated by arsenic", while waterlogging and secondary salinity are the major problems in Pakistan, he added.

-- Swissrose (, May 09, 2001

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