Press release March 2009 - New UN report warns of increasing pressures on water - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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New UN report warns of increasing pressures on water

Istanbul/Nairobi, 17 March 2009 ? A global water crisis could be triggered by increased population, rising living standards, dietary changes and more biofuel production, according to the UN World Water Development Report entitled 'Water in a Changing World'.

The report, released on 16 March in Istanbul (Turkey) as part of the World Water Forum, warns that nearly half of the world's people will be living in areas of acute water shortage by 2030. It argues that despite the vital importance of water to all aspects of human life, the water sector has been plagued by a chronic lack of political support, poor governance and underinvestment.

The world's population of 6.6 billion is forecast to rise by 2.5 billion by 2050, with most of the growth in developing countries, many in regions where water is already scarce. The growth rate means demand for fresh water is increasing by 64 billion cubic metres a year, the report says.

On the theme of 'Bridging divides for water', this year's Forum seeks to enable multi-stakeholder participation and dialogue to make water policy more sustainable at a global level. Representing the UN Environment Programme in this key gathering is a specialized team, headed by Angela Cropper, UNEP Deputy Executive Director.

UNEP contributed to 'Drivers of Change' section of the Third World Water Report and will also launch two publications on 18 March as part of the Forum: 'Water Security and ecosystem services: The critical connection', and 'Integrated Water Resources Management in Action'. The main issues UNEP is focusing on at the Forum are water and ecosystem services, adaptation to climate change and freshwater and coastal interlinkages.

About the UN World Water Development Report The UN World Water Development Report (WWDR), released every three years in conjunction with the World Water Forum, is the UN's flagship report on water and is a comprehensive review of the state of the world's freshwater resources.

The report is a joint effort of the 26 UN agencies and entities which make up UN-Water, working in partnership with governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders. It aims to provide decision-makers with the tools to implement sustainable use of our water.

The World Water Development Report provides a mechanism for monitoring changes in water resources and their management and for tracking progress towards achieving targets, particularly those of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The Report also offers best practices and in-depth theoretical analyses to help stimulate ideas and actions for better stewardship in the water sector.

Urgent action is needed, as illustrated in the 2009 UNEP Year Book which was released in February. Areas expected to be affected by persistent drought and water scarcity in coming years include the southern and northern tiers of Africa, much of the Middle East, a broad band in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, southern and eastern Australia, northern Mexico, and the southwestern United States.

Water facts and figures:


? Climate change is associated with global warming and is a long-term change caused by natural factors and, as is now accepted, human activities due to greenhouse gas emissions.

? The average temperature of the earth's surface has risen by 0.6C since the late 1800s. It is expected to increase by another 1.4 to 5.8C by the year 2100, and the sea level may rise from 9 to 88 cm during the same period.

? Climate change is having a significant impact on weather patterns, precipitation and the hydrological cycle, affecting surface water availability, as well as soil moisture and groundwater recharge.

? Climate change is also likely to lead to increased magnitude and frequency of precipitation-related disasters ? floods, droughts, mudslides, typhoons and cyclones.

? If climate change follows the projected scenarios, we can expect more erratic weather in the future, including increased variability in precipitation, which will threaten crop yields in both developed and developing countries, while placing more than 2.8 billion people at risk of water shortage.

? On a global level, polar and arid systems appear to be the most vulnerable to climate change. Polar systems store the vast majority of freshwater, and most scenarios suggest they are likely to develop a considerably increased discharge of water, driven by higher temperatures in both the polar regions and particularly in the Arctic.

? A recent study estimates that climate change actually accounts for about 20 per cent of the global increase in water scarcity, the remaining 80 per cent accounted for by population growth and economic development.

? In large parts of eastern Europe, western Russia, central Canada and California, peak stream flows have shifted from spring to winter as more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow, therefore reaching the rivers more rapidly.

? In Africa's large basins of the Niger, Lake Chad and the Senegal river basin, total available water has decreased by 40?60 per cent.


? Out of the world's total land area of 13 billion hectares (ha), 12 per cent is cultivated, and an estimated 27 per cent is used for pasture. The 1.5 billion ha of cropland include 277 million ha of irrigated land, representing 18 per cent of cropland.

? In population terms, cropland amounts to a global average of 0.25 ha per person.

? To satisfy the growing demand for food between 2000 and 2030, production of food crops in developing countries is projected to increase by 6 per cent. At the same time, a continuing rise in productivity should make it possible to restrain the increase in water use for agriculture to about 14 per cent.

? Producing food requires from 2,000 to 5,000 litres/person/day, depending on diet and climate differences and the efficiency of local food production systems.

? Most of the water used to produce food or other crops comes from rain that is stored in the soil (so-called green water), where it is captured by crop roots. Irrigation is practised in places and times where rainwater is insufficient for adequately supplying water to crops.

? Globally, rainfall provides about 90 per cent of the water used by crops. Although it covers only 10 per cent of the water used in agriculture, irrigation claims 70 per cent of all the freshwater (so-called blue water) used for human consumption.

? In 2030, irrigated agriculture in 93 developing countries would account for over 70 per cent of the projected increase in cereal production. In these countries, the area equipped for irrigation is expected to expand by 20 per cent (40 million ha) between 1998 and 2030.

? In the global debate about increasing water scarcity, agriculture is often associated with the image of inefficient, wasteful water use. This image is conveyed by poor performance in terms of 'water use efficiency,' a term that was defined as the ratio between the irrigation water absorbed by the plants and the amount of water actually withdrawn from its source for the purpose of irrigation. FAO has estimated that overall water use efficiency in irrigation ranges around 38% in developing countries and has projected only a minor increase in overall water use efficiency in the forthcoming decades.


? Water, sanitation and hygiene have important impacts on both health and disease. Water-related diseases kill a child every 8 seconds, and are responsible for 80 per cent of all illnesses and deaths in the developing world.

? Water-related diseases kill more than 5 million people every year, more than ten times the number killed in wars.

? Malaria is caused by a parasite carried by certain types of mosquitoes. Humans are infected when bitten by the mosquitoes. Each year, there are 300 million to 500 million cases of malaria throughout the world and about 1 million children die of malaria. Reducing the mosquito population in households and communities by eliminating standing water can be an important factor in reducing malaria cases.

? Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) is a disease caused by parasitic worms. At various stages of the life cycle, worms and their eggs live in certain types of freshwater snails, water (where they can survive for up to 48 hours) and human hosts. They penetrate the skin of people swimming or washing in contaminated water; they then cause infection and can eventually damage the liver, intestines, lungs and bladder. About 200 million people are infected with schistosomiasis. Studies have found that adequate water supply and sanitation could reduce infection rates by 77 per cent.

? Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. Symptoms are characterized by headaches, nausea and loss of appetite. About 12 million people are affected by typhoid every year.


? Water scarcity occurs when the amount of water withdrawn from lakes, rivers or groundwater is so great that water supplies are no longer adequate to satisfy all human or ecosystem requirements, bringing about increased competition among potential demands.

? Water scarcity has also been defined as a situation where water availability in a country or in a region is below 1000 m3 per person per year. However, many regions in the world experience much more severe scarcity, living with less than 500 m3 per person per year.

? Water scarcity is among the main problems to be faced by many societies and the World in the twenty-first century. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.

? 1,800 million people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions.

? Water scarcity causes enormous problems for populations and societies. The available water is not sufficient for the production of food and for alleviating hunger and poverty in some regions, where quite often the population growth is larger than the capability for sustainable use of the natural resources.

The lack of water does not allow industrial, urban and tourism development to proceed without restrictions on water uses and allocation policies for other user sectors, particularly agriculture. In regions of water scarcity the water resources are probably already degraded, or subjected to processes of degradation in both quantity and quality, which adds to the shortage of water.




Further Resources

UN World Water Development Report

World Water Day 2009


UNEP - Freshwater website

World Water Council

UNEP 2009 Yearbook



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