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GEO Year Book 2003  
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Feature Focus
Freshwater: meeting our goals, sustaining our future

Freshwater: sustaining the environment
Freshwater and its role in socio-economic development
Freshwater partnerships to facilitate sustainable development
Sustaining our future and meeting our goals

From household and boardroom to regional and global fora, water generated debate in 2003 among the rich and poor, corporate and public sectors, and industrialized and developing countries. Water was not only topical but also defined the sustainable development agenda during the year. It will remain a major issue in the decades to come, because water is life – for people and the environment

Key Facts

  • The total volume of water on earth is about 1.4 billion km3.
  • The volume of freshwater resources is approximately 35 million km3, or 2.5 per cent of the total water volume.
  • Of these freshwater resources, about 24 million km3, 68.9 per cent, is in the form of ice and permanent snow cover in mountainous regions, the Antarctic and Arctic.
  • Some 8 million km3, 30.8 per cent, is stored underground in the form of groundwater (shallow and deep groundwater basins up to 2 000 metres, soil moisture, swamp water and permafrost).
  • Freshwater lakes and rivers contain an estimated 105 000 km3 or 0.3 per cent of the world’s freshwater.
  • The total usable freshwater supply for ecosystems and people is around 200 000 km3 of water, which is less than one per cent of all freshwater resources.
  • 3 011 freshwater species are listed as threatened, endangered, or extinct, 1 039 of which are fish. Four of the five river dolphins and two of the three manatees are threatened, as are around 40 freshwater turtles and more than 400 inland water crustaceans.
  • The amount of groundwater withdrawn annually is estimated at 600–700 km3, representing about 20 per cent of global water withdrawals. About 1.5 billion people depend upon groundwater for their drinking water supply.
  • According to estimates for the year 2000, agriculture accounted for 70 per cent of the world’s total freshwater use.
  • Per capita water consumption in developed countries is on average about 10 times more than in developing countries. In developed countries, it ranges from 500 to 800 litres per day whereas it is 60–150 litres per day in developing countries.
  • Industrial uses account for about 20 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals. Of this, 57–69 per cent is used for hydropower and nuclear power generation, 30–40 per cent for industrial processes, and 0.5–3 per cent for thermal power generation.
Sources: IUCN 2003, Shiklomanov 1999, UNEP 2002a, UNESCO 2000, UNDP and others 1998, WMO 1997

At the beginning of this century, world leaders declared their intention to work for a world in which people would be free from want and fear. This focus on a sustainable future included “confronting the water crisis”.

The Millennium Declaration, adopted by 189 Heads of State and Government at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000, presented eight goals and 18 underlying targets. Target 10 of Goal 7 focuses specifically on freshwater: it aims to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by the year 2015. But this is not the only goal where water has a role to play. Freshwater is relevant and important for achieving all eight development goals contained in the Millennium Declaration (MDGs) (Box 1).

Water issues have remained high on the international environment agenda since the Millennium Summit. At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), protection and management of water resources was recognized by world leaders as fundamental for all three pillars of sustainable development. The WEHAB Initiative, proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a contribution to the WSSD, targets actions to facilitate sustainable development in five key areas, water and sanitation – and energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity – in which water resources also play a significant part. The WSSD reaffirmed the MDG target on water and added two more development targets related to water: a target for integrated water resources management and a target for improved sanitation (Box 1). This reflects the growing severity of water problems and the urgent need for solutions. International attention on water will continue, particularly with the water and sanitation theme of CSD12 and the recently-declared UN Decade of Freshwater between 2005–2015. This will build upon the efforts made in 2003: the International Year of Freshwater.

The year 2003 flowed with various international and regional meetings and other activities, and generated volumes of material in print and on the web. The Third World Water Forum was held in the Japanese city of Kyoto in March, and the G-8 industrialized countries used Evian, the French city famous for its bottled water, as the venue for their discussions on water in June. In November 2003, the 14th Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Panama City, highlighted water as one of the eight priority themes of the Forum’s Initiative for Sustainable Development. In Africa, Addis Ababa hosted the Pan-African Implementation and Partnership Conference on Water in December, bringing down the curtain on the year but not the issue.

Water is often key in terms of poverty alleviation, consumption, production, sanitation, human settlements and biodiversity. Transboundary water resource issues are important in terms of governance and sustainability. Water sustains all life and links environmental issues on land and in marine areas. It is therefore, essential that freshwater, including groundwater, and marine issues are considered as part of an integrated system.

Sound water management is important for the environment, for reducing human vulnerability resulting from degradation of water quality and water scarcity, and for enhancing human security and well-being through strategic and effective management responses. The water issues in this section of the Year Book are discussed within the context of the MDGs, starting with Goal 7 which focuses on environmental sustainability. This first part highlights the water resource base and its distribution, emphasizing issues related to land use change and biodiversity, and how water resources management is linked to ecosystem functioning.

The second part highlights socio-economic issues, addressing the linkages between water and poverty alleviation, provision of safe water and sanitation, human health, food security, education and gender roles. Human vulnerability resulting from poor management of water resources is an issue that links all of these. It becomes clear that a supply of clean and adequate water is fundamental to achieving the development goals.

The third part emphasizes the importance of partnerships, examines the roles of different stakeholders, and reviews efforts at different levels to manage water resources effectively. It demonstrates that the partnership principles outlined in Goal 8 are as applicable in the field of water as they are to the rest of the development arena. Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and integrated coastal area and river basin management (ICARM) are two of the approaches covered. Throughout the Feature Focus examples show how technologies can play a role in sustainable water supply and use at the local level. The Feature Focus concludes by recognizing some important policy issues for consideration in charting the way forward.









Box 1: Internationally agreed development goals and selected targets relevant to water
Millennium Declaration Targets

Goal 1
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day
  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

Goal 2
Achieve universal primary education of primary schooling

  • Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course

Goal 3
Promote gender equality and empower women of education no later than 2015

  • Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and to all levels

Goal 4
Reduce child mortality

  • Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate

Goal 5
Improve maternal health

  • Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio
Goal 6
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Halt by 2015 and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
  • Halt by 2015 and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
Goal 7
Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes
    and reverse the loss of environmental resources
  • Halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water
  • Achieve by 2020 a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers
Goal 8
Develop a global partnership for development
  • Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system. Includes a commitment to good governance, development, and poverty reduction – both nationally
    and internationally
  • Address the special needs of the least developed countries, landlocked countries and Small Island
    Developing States (SIDS)
  • In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies
WSSD Plan of Implementation
  • Halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking
    water (as outlined in the Millennium Declaration) and the proportion of people who do not have
    access to basic sanitation.
  • Develop integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans by 2005
Sources: UN 2000a, UN 200  


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