Global water crisis due to mismanagement, says UN

There is enough freshwater in the world, but its uneven distribution leaves a fifth of the world's population without access to safe drinking water and 40% with no basic sanitation, the UN said in its second World Water Development Report.

The triennial report, which gives the most comprehensive assessment of global freshwater resources to date, was published Thursday in anticipation of the World Water Forum in Mexico. It finds 1.1bn people are deprived of clean drinking water and 2.6bn of basic sanitation – figures based on a joint monitoring programme by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF.

This situation is blamed on “mismanagement, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia and a shortage of new investments in building human capacity as well as physical infrastructure.”

It is governance systems that “determine who gets what water, when and how, and decide who has the right to water and related services,” the report says.

Most of the billions deprived of water resources live in the world’s poorest countries. Their situation is likely to worsen with growing demand for food and galloping urbanisation, according to the report.

The world’s food needs will grow by 55% by 2030, and with them the need for irrigation, which already swallows up 70% of all freshwater destined for human use.

By 2007, half of the world’s inhabitants will be living in towns and cities. This proportion will further grow to almost two-thirds by 2030, with an estimated two billion of the urbanised masses living in slums and squatter settlements.

The UN report also predicts that water could provide electricity to some of the two billion inhabitants of developing countries who have no access to reliable forms of energy. While Europe uses 75% of its hydroelectricity potential, Africa, where 60% of the population has no electricity, only makes use of 7% of its potential.

Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Koichiro Marsuura said: “Good governance is essential for managing our increasingly-stretched supplies of freshwater and indispensable for tackling poverty. There is no blueprint for good governance, which is both complex and dynamic.”

“But we know that it must include adequate institutions – nationally, regionally and locally, strong, effective legal frameworks and sufficient human and financial resources.”

By Goska Romanowicz

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