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UN calls for water rethink

March 12, 2012

A report from the United Nations has highlighted chronic water shortages in many parts of the world, with climate change likely to make the problem worse.

An Indian schoolgirl drinks water from new handpump
Image: CC/waterdotorg

A UN study called for a radical rethink on how to allocate the world's water resources, highlighting climate change and the growing food, energy and sanitary needs as a major concern.

"Freshwater is not being used sustainably," UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement. "Accurate information remains disparate, and management is fragmented ... the future is increasingly uncertain and risks are set to deepen."

The report claims that demand from agriculture, which already accounts for around 70 percent of the freshwater used globally, is expected to rise by at least 19 percent by 2050.

Delegates were due to debate the report, which envisages that the world's population will increase by an estimated 2 billion people to 9 billion in the next four decades, at the World Water Forum in the French city of Marseille on Monday.

Shortages in Europe predicted

The document claims that, as demand increases, it is probable that there will be shortages across the globe.

"Climate change will drastically affect food production in South Asia and Southern Africa between now and 2030," the report said. "By 2070, water stress will also be felt in central and southern Europe."

The document was written by experts in hydrology, economics and social issues under the banner of the UN's educational, scientific and cultural body UNESCO.

A separate study published last week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forecast that water demand would rise by 55 percent by 2050, with 40 percent of people likely to live in areas of potential water stress.

On a positive note, the World Health Organization at the same time said the UN's target to raise the proportion of people with access to safe drinking water by 2015 had already been achieved at the end of 2010.

rc/msh (AFP, Reuters)