More than half of humanity will be living with water shortages, depleted fisheries and polluted coastlines within 50 years because of a worldwide water crisis, warns a United Nations report out Monday.
Waste and inadequate management of water are the main culprits behind growing problems, particularly in poverty-ridden regions, says the study, the most comprehensive of its kind. The United Nations Environment Programme, working with more than 200 water resource experts worldwide, produced the report.
"Tens of millions of people don't have access to safe water. It is indeed a crisis," says Halifa Drammeh, who coordinates UNEP's water policies. The wide-ranging report, part of the UN's designation of 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater, also documents problems such as steep drops in the size of Asia's Aral Sea, Africa's Lake Chad and Iraq's Marshlands; the deterioration of coral reefs; and the rise of coastal waters because of climate changes. Some developing nations could face water shortages, crop failures and conflict over shrinking lakes and rivers if nothing is done to prevent wasteful irrigation and slow evaporation from reservoirs, and drinking-water systems are not repaired.