The following is an article from the International Herald Tribune:
"Switzerland Leaders meeting at the World Summit on Sustainable Development are making decisions that shape how water is managed over the next 10 years. Yet preparations for the summit meeting have so far only focused on water delivery and sanitation, while ignoring the crucial issue of water supply.
The world is facing a fresh water crisis. People already use over half the world's accessible fresh water, and may use nearly three/quarters by 2025.
More than 1.5 billion people lack ready access to drinking water and, if current consumption patterns continue, 20 years from now at least 3.5 billion people / nearly half the world's projected population / will live in river basins where water is seriously lacking.
Moreover, contamination denies some 3.3 billion people access to clean water, and 2.5 billion people have no water sanitation services. In developing countries, an estimated 90 per cent of waste water is discharged without treatment into rivers and streams. Each year there are about 250 million cases of water/related diseases, with 5 million to 10 million deaths.
Not only people are threatened by water shortages and pollution. Fresh water ecosystems, which harbor the greatest concentration of species, are among the most vulnerable on Earth. Half the world's wetlands have been destroyed in the last 100 years. Of the world's freshwater fish species, 20 per cent are threatened, endangered or have become extinct in recent decades. In North America, freshwater animals are the most endangered wildlife group, dying out five times faster than species on land.
Water is an issue that affects us all. But in a 21st century version of the cargo cult, it seems that governments believe the global crisis can be solved by installing vastly more pipes and toilets by 2015, without actually ensuring there is any water available to make them work.Improved water distribution and sanitation services are obviously needed to help combat poverty, disease, and pollution. But water shortages in many countries are primarily due to poor management: Water sources have not been conserved and water is not used efficiently.
Degradation of water sources, due to poor management of river basins, means that less fresh water is available. Deforestation and overgrazing lead to heavy water runoff after rain and the spread of desert and arid land.
Water diversion and inefficient water use are also a problem. For example, in developing countries, up to half the water delivered to cities is lost in leaking pipes.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which includes 133 nations as members, is a model for transparent and effective multinational action to conserve fresh water habitats. More than most other agreements, it actively engages government, nongovernment and multilateral agencies in partnerships to enhance cooperation and joint work. It also focuses on the importance of drawing local and indigenous peoples into conservation.
Despite embodying all that the Johannesburg summit meeting aims to achieve, the Ramsar Convention receives just one rhetorical reference in the summit meeting's draft action plan. Hopefully, there is still time for officials to set clear and practical targets to conserve the world's scarce fresh water supplies and use water more efficiently.
The writer, director of WWF International's Living Waters Program, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.
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