Water facts and figures -- information paper from WWF Living Waters Programme
Information March 2003
A GLOBAL WATER CRISIS
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
The world is facing a freshwater crisis. People already use over half the world's accessible freshwater, and may use nearly three-quarters by 2025. Over 1.5 billion people lack ready access to drinking water and, if current consumption patterns continue, at least 3.5 billion people - nearly half the world's projected population - will live in water-stressed river basins in just 20 years.
On top of this, 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 wastewater is discharged without treatment into rivers and streams. Each year there are about 250 million cases of water-related diseases, with some 5-10 million deaths.
It is not only people who are threatened by water shortages and pollution. Freshwater ecosystems, which harbour the world's greatest concentration of species, are amongst the most vulnerable on Earth. Half the world's wetlands have been destroyed in the last 100 years. Two-fifths of the world's fish are freshwater species - and of these, 20 per cent are threatened, endangered, or have become extinct in recent decades. The WWF Living Planet Report for 2002 shows that the continuing decline of animal species is greater in freshwater than in any other habitat signalling that one of the underlying causes of the freshwater crisis is the continuing degradation of land and water ecosystems.
WWF's Living Planet Index indicates a loss of over half it's the world's freshwater biodiversity since 1970. Despite this, the freshwater ecosystems continue to disappear or be altered at an alarming rate. Threats to these ecosystems include conversion of wetlands to other uses - many countries are under pressure to develop floodplains and other wetlands for agriculture or industry; large infrastructure projects such as dams and canals which threaten to alter riverflows. Misuse and overexploitation of water resources, sucking rivers dry and often resulting in depletion of aquifers and falling water tables. Introduction of non-native species, which can choke waterways and become health hazards by providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Asia's rivers average 20 times more lead than rivers in the industrialized world, and average 50 times more bacteria from human feces than the World Health Organization guidelines allow.
The lack of basic environmental resources can exacerbate racial and ethnic tensions, raising the prospect of water wars. Major water sources, such as the Euphrates in the Middle East and the Limpopo in southern Africa, have the potential to ignite conflict if those nations up stream choose to divert water for their own resources at the expense of those living downstream.
Freshwater use is not just an issue in developing nations. Spain, for example, is pushing for a Hydrological Plan that will involve the creation of many dams and reservoirs that would threaten as many as 86 Special Protection Areas and 82 Sites of Community Interest, as designated under the European Wild Birds and Habitats Directives. The Yellow river in China, Colorado River in North America, and the Murray River in Australia are amongst the Earth's major rivers that are regularly sucked dry.
Water is an issue that affects us all. Humans are already appropriating more than half of all accessible surface water runoff and this may increase to 70 per cent by 2025. The three largest water users in global terms are agriculture (70 per cent), industry (20 per cent) and municipal or domestic use (10 per cent). At the same time, degradation of water sources is an ongoing problem. It leads to less freshwater being available, and is largely due to poor management of river basins. Culprits include deforestation and overgrazing, which leads to more erratic water runoff and desertification.
Water diversion and inefficient water use are also an issue. Irrigated agricultural systems that consume 70 percent of the world's diverted water, loose up to 80 percent of this water through leakage in earthen channels and inefficient application onto fields. In developing countries up to half the water delivered to cities is lost in leaking pipes.
HOW CAN THIS PROBLEM BE ADDRESSED?
WWF is convinced that a successful World Water Forum needs to address three key challenges, calling for an ecosystem approach to water management. Stakeholders must take action to:
· Invest in ecosystem health. The Forum should call upon national governments, multilateral organizations, and the global donor community to recognize that water scarcity, disaster mitigation, and risk management are not always best addressed by infrastructure development.
· Provide food security and alleviate poverty. The Forum should call for sustainable management of freshwater fisheries to be incorporated as a key component of all water resource management programmes. A commitment to use water more efficiently, especially in agriculture, is essential to make limited water supplies stretch further to meet the needs of people and nature.
· Implement integrated river basin management (IRBM) to support water services. Without a commitment to implementing IRBM, there is danger that progress in providing access to water services will be curtailed by over-exploitation and degradation of the freshwater ecosystems that are the ultimate source of the water. This should include establishing river basin management organizations for more than 261 basins shared by more than one country. Operationalising the World Commission on Dam's guidelines for new dams projects is a key requirement for good river management.
For further information:
Lisa Hadeed, Communications Manager, Living Waters Programme, Tel. +41 79 372 1346, email: LHadeed@wwfint.org
Mitzi Borromeo; Press Officer, WWF International, mobile no: +41 79 4773553; MBorromeo@wwfint.org