Message by UNEP Executive Director for World Water Day

2007 Theme - Water Scarcity

22 March - Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for six billion people but it is shared unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.

The reality of climate change compels the world to pay even greater attention to water scarcity given the predicted variability and more extreme weather events likely over the coming years and decades.

The text book planning of a dam on the basis of a one in 100 flow is becoming a hydrological lottery of receding certainty.

Glaciers, water stores and water sources for millions of people alongside wildlife and economically productive ecosystems, are melting three times faster than in the 1980s and could disappear in the decades to come.

A Brazilian study indicates that temperatures in the Amazon could rise as high as 8 degrees C dramatically altering the flows of one of the world's most important freshwater systems. So if we want to avoid "Water Scarcity" as the permanent theme for the 21st century, a big part of the solution is cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 60 to 80 per cent.

Fortunately, World Water Day 2007 comes in a year of unprecedented momentum on climate change both scientifically and politically. Let us hope that the tide of political opinion is genuinely changing in favour of a meaningful, fair and equitable emissions-reduction regime for when the Kyoto Protocol treaty expires in five short-years time.

Even without climate change addressing water scarcity remains an issue in need of resolution. Environmental degradation, from deforestation to the draining of wetlands is aggravating scarcity as are inefficient forms of irrigation, over-exploitation of underground aquifers and pollution to rivers, lakes and streams.

UNEP's last Governing Council adopted a new water policy and strategy for the organization. We, in partnership with the UN system and others, are fully committed to its implementation which centers on improved, sustainable management.

Solutions do not always need to be large-scale or require deep, fathomless pockets' take rainwater harvesting. There is, mathematically, enough rain falling on Africa to more than supply 13 billion people. It is a similar story across large parts of the globe including Asia and Latin America.

Reducing water scarcity by, for example, rainwater harvesting has multiple benefits. A Maasai community in Kenya is now storing over half a million litres. It is not only a buffer against drought. Small kitchen gardens and wood lots have also sprouted contributing to food, energy security, overcoming poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.


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