U.N.: World water crisis to threaten one in three by 2025

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U.N.: World water crisis to threaten one in three August 13, 2001 Posted: 2:50 PM EDT (1850 GMT)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (Reuters) -- A looming water crisis could threaten one in three people by 2025, sparking as much conflict this century as oil did in the last, the U.N.-sponsored Third World Water Forum said in a statement Monday.

Governments must urgently find new ways to conserve shrinking water supplies amid rising demand, forum participants -- including leading scientists and environmentalists -- were told on the opening day of the week-long conference.

The statement said about 450 million people in 29 countries already suffered from water shortages and that Asia and sub-Saharan Africa -- both heavily populated -- would face the most severe problems.

The Middle East, India, Pakistan and China would also struggle with serious water shortages in coming years unless opposing groups of environmental and agricultural scientists can agree on how to tackle water use, the forum said.

"Water could become the new oil as a major source of conflict," Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, patron of the 1999 World Water Forum, told Reuters in an interview after delivering the opening speech in Stockholm.

"Increasing scarcity, competition and arguments over water in the first quarter of the 21st century will dramatically change the way we value and use water and the way we mobilize and manage water resources," Willem-Alexander said.

Environmentalists are lobbying for a 10 percent cut in water use to protect rivers, lakes and wetlands on which millions of people depend for their livelihoods.

Pollution also seen as threat Agricultural scientists say farm water use, especially irrigation, should be boosted by 15-20 percent over 25 years to secure food supplies and battle famine.

The forum aims to find common ground between these approaches and boost awareness of the need to grow more food with less water.

It said pollution was another threat to the shrinking water and food supplies and that pesticides and fertilizers polluted surface and groundwater and rendered the soil infertile.

China's loss of agricultural production due to pollution amounts to about $160 million annually, the forum said, adding that it was unlikely traditional agriculture could feed the world's population in 2025.

The forum is made up of 10 international organizations such as the World Health Organization, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and UNEP, the United Nations Environment Program.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 13, 2001

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