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Hundreds of millions of South Asians face growing water stress due to over exploitation, climate change and inadequate cooperation among countries, which are threatening river basins that sustain about half of the region's 1.5 billion people, the United Nations warns in a new report.

South Asia is home to one-fourth of the global population, including some of the world's poorest people, who have access to less than 5 per cent of the planet's freshwater resources, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

"Freshwater Under Threat: South Asia," a new report produced by UNEP and the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), examines the state of freshwater resources in selected major river basins in the region, identifies key threats to water resources development and management, and assesses the challenges in coping with these threats.

The three transboundary river basins assessed in the report include the largest in South Asia: the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) river basin (which spans Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal), the Indus river basin (in Afghanistan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan) and the Helmand river basin (which covers Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan).

"Water is a vital resource for people's health and livelihoods, especially in South Asia where these three transboundary river basins sustain about half of the region's 1.5 billion people, and some of the poorest people in the world," said Young-Woo Park, UNEP Regional Director and Representative for Asia and the Pacific, as he launched the report today at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit.

The report calls for urgent policy attention and more research into the impact of climate change on water resources, infrastructure and management practices, as well as improved cooperation among the affected countries and integrated basin management.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner stressed the need to invest in the sustainable management of these vital river basins.

"These river systems are major economic arteries as well as social and environmental assets for South Asia," he stated. "Investing in sustainable management is thus an investment in the current and future prosperity of Asia and will be a central and determining factor underpinning the transition to a resource efficient, sustainable green economy."

The report is the first of a series produced by UNEP that covers three sub-regions, North-East Asia, South Asia and South-East Asia. A similar assessment was completed for selected river basins in Africa.

They are intended to complement the efforts of Governments, non-governmental organizations and development agencies engaged in improving the status of water systems in Asia. 

News Tracker past stories on this issue:

Majority of world population face water shortages unless action taken, warns Migiro

See original news item: United Nations Environment Program, Feb-6-2009  
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Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Feb-8-2009)   Web site
The impending problems in South Asia put other problems - like Australia, where more than 100 have died in wildfires these last few days - into context. And to some extent I agree with the comments below about population control. It may be part of the answer.

Education and, for example, the free supply of condoms would be a good start. But coercion? No. The best way to reduce birth rates is to eliminate poverty. The statistics are clear: poorer people have more babies. Redistribution of income from rich to poor would cut birth rates dramatically.

Yet it is not population, per se, that is the problem: it is consumption. The average person in the rich world consumes 32 times as many resources and emits much more carbon than the average person in the third world. So if you want to control population for sustainability reasons, best start with the USA and Western Europe.
Comment by: City Worker (Feb-8-2009)   

Oh my, yes. The population growth is out of control. It's real bad now. The planet can't even handle the population that is presently on it. In the video , "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," elsewhere on this site, Thomas Friedman stated that from the day he was born, to 100 years from then, the planet's population is projected to more than triple. How will the planet handle the population 100 years from his birth, if it can't even provide for all the people of the world now?
Comment by: BonnieStory (Bonnie Story) (Feb-8-2009)   Web site

Well, I'll stick my hand right on the electrified "third rail" and shout out the all-too-obvious: POPULATION CONTROL!!!!!!!!! OK, so that means education and birth control, no? Frank discussion of birth control? *GASP* Government programs for maternity planning, right? Uh-oh, now I've said it: FAMILY PLANNING. Oh, boy, does that mean burning in hell for eternity? What's factual is this choice: Having horrible living conditions for all, right now, or following the dogma-du-jour that is calling for making more babies and more, more, more babies... *or else*. What are some thoughts about adopting family planning in SE Asia which is overwhelmingly Catholic or Muslim? Is there a chance for the region to not become a living Hell on Earth due to a population bomb of our own making? Can it be done? Water rationing will not help if families keep having five, six, seven children. It's just a math problem, folks, I don't hate religion so please no hate mail. It's the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Can we talk about it or is it too scary??? Thanks for reading this comment. Bonnie

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