UN report highlights growing water stress but could put more stress on protecting ecosystems



Posted on 16 March 2009  | 
A UN water report issued today gives a useful overview of a world growing increasingly short of water but puts far too little emphasis on the need to protect the natural environmental assets that supply and purify water, global conservation organization WWF said today.

Water in a changing world, the third UN Water Development Report issued by UNESCO at the World Water Forum in Istanbul, said water demand would increase due to population growth, rising living standards and changed food consumption patterns and the demands of biofuel production while water supplies were already near their limits in many countries.

WWF welcomed the report’s call for better governance and management of water and its observation that while the water sector is often taking more responsible approach to management “the key decisions about water are taken outside the water sector”.

“The report is relatively sympathetic to solutions that involve pouring concrete, without giving due recognition to the problems caused by the concrete pouring of the past,” said Dr Lifeng Li, Director of Freshwater at WWF International.

“We would have liked to see more emphasis on the importance of providing enough water for natural systems to keep functioning in order to keep providing water.

“One key contribution to water supplies running short in many areas is that the natural environmental assets that protect and purify water and help us cope with floods and droughts have been degraded through over-use and pollution.

The report notes that climate change will worsen the water situation in many already short countries but offers few pointers for adapting to this challenge.

“The key lesson of WWF’s on the ground work is that what best protects and improves the functioning of freshwater systems now is what will best protect them from climate change impacts in the future,”
The report also raises the likelihood of conflict over water between countries, regions and urban and rural users.

“We also find it puzzling that a report predicting more water conflict between countries fails to mention for the ratification and implementation of an existing UN treaty that would provide a basis for countries to share and jointly manage waters on their borders.”

The UN Watercourses Convention, approved by an overwhelming majority of countries in 1997, still lacks enough signatories to come into effect. The 263 water basins shared between two or more countries drain half the world’s land surface, account for nearly two thirds of global freshwater flows and are vital to the water supplies of 40 percent of the world’s population.

“Indeed, the convention fails to even gain a specific mention in UN Water’s brochure for World Water Day this coming Sunday, which is on the theme of transboundary waters,” Dr Li said.
Water pollution.
Water pollution.
© WWF-Canon / Mauri RAUTKARI Enlarge

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