By 2025, one-third of the world’s population will face water shortages

Currently, 450 million people in 29 countries face water shortages, but by 2025, the figure will have risen to 2.7 billion, one third of the predicted human population, according to delegates at the Stockholm World Water Week.

Environmentalists want water consumption to be reduced by 10% over the next 25 years in order to protect the aquatic habitats on which humans depend, whilst agriculturalists say that water use will have to increase by 20% in order to maintain food supplies and avoid starvation for the world population that is expected to increase by three billion. In order to resolve these conflicting demands, a group of the world’s most influential nature protection, irrigation and food security organisations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), used the Stockholm World Water Week to launch an international scientific and policy coalition, the Dialogue on Water, Food and Environment.

“The truth is that both sides have a point,” said His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands, who launched the dialogue group. However, he pointed out that: “unfortunately, both sides too often base their arguments on emotion and anecdotal evidence. There has to be a compelling analysis and dialogue on what irrigation and other water projects have done for agriculture and the environment.”

“Increasing scarcity, competition and arguments over water in the first quarter of the 21st century will dramatically change the way we value and use water and the way we mobilise and manage water resources,” said the Prince. “Innovative ways of using this precious commodity have to be found to protect ecosystems and ensure food for the billions on this planet.”

The Dialogue aims to involve as many people and organisations as possible to find the solution to the water problem, and has given itself a five year target to develop a consensus between the agricultural and environmental groups. The group also intends to mobilise water and environmental research in order to present practical policy options for governments.

“Three huge chasms that stand between us today, and water security tomorrow: water for people; finding the financing; changing the way we manage water,” said Chair of the Global Water Partnership Margaret Catley-Carlson. “In finding solutions it is paramount that we get all users of water – government departments, academics, community groups, NGOs, the private sector and other interest groups – to get together to share information, understand data and work together to solve problems. In other words, we need to move away from the present fragmented, sub-sectoral practices and instead, integrate water resources management policies and practices to provide holistic cross-sectoral water management. This must be done urgently as the task that lies before us of providing water security is Herculean.”

On a more positive note at the awards, however, HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden presented the 2001 Stockholm Water Prize to Professor Takashi Asano for his ‘outstanding contributions’ to water efficiency through the promotion of wastewater reuse, recycling and reclamation (see related story). The Stockholm Industry Water Award was presented to General Motors de Mexico for a water conservation project at one of its facilities which involves extensive use of water and wastewater treatment and recycling techniques converting saline into potable water in an area of extreme water scarcity (see related story).

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