- The head of the UN environment programme,
Dr Klaus Topfer, says he thinks a war triggered by water scarcity is very
- Dr Topfer, a German who earlier served
as his country's environment minister, makes the prediction in an interview
with the journal Environmental Science and Technology (EST).
- EST is published by the American Chemical
Society, which with more than 155,000 members claims to be the world's
largest scientific society.
- Dr Topfer says he is "completely
convinced" that there will be a conflict over natural resources, with
water the likeliest of the possible causes.
- "Everybody knows that we have an
increase in population, but we do not have a corresponding increase in
drinking water, so the result ... is conflict."
- Avoiding waste
- Dr Topfer proposes monitoring worldwide
reserves of drinking water, and establishing agreements for the use of
water, including underground supplies.
- He argues as well for "economic
instruments to stimulate the use of new technologies" to promote water
- And with an eye to the dramatic global
population growth he expects, Klaus Topfer calls for a revolution in the
efficiency with which we use water.
- He wants the new, more efficient technologies
to be made available "on preferential terms" to developing countries.
- On the brink of the new millennium, the
world has no more fresh water than it did 2,000 years ago, when the population
was less than 3% of its present size.
- That finite resource is in fact becoming
smaller, as fresh water is increasingly unuseable because of pollution.
- Thirty one countries, most of them in
Africa and the Middle East, are now suffering water stress or scarcity.
- By 2025, the total affected will probably
number 48 countries.
- One in four goes without
- They will account for 35% of the expected
global population by then.
- And countries like China and Pakistan
will be close to joining the list.
- The human cost of water scarcity today
- About 1.4 billion people, a quarter of
the world's population, do not have access to clean, safe water. More than
2 billion people have no proper sanitation.
- Every hour more than 600 people die because
their water supplies are contaminated, inadequate, or non-existent.
- And the health of many of those who survive
is often permanently damaged.
- Yet the benefits of tackling the problem
are similarly immense.
- A review of nearly 150 studies shows
that providing clean water and sanitation meant infant and child deaths
fell by an average of 55%.
- Some countries registered even greater
- In Costa Rica, for example, there were
in the 1970s 68 deaths per 1,000 live births. In the 1980s this figure
had been reduced to 20 per 1,000. Researchers attributed three-quarters
of the mortality decline to water and sanitation projects.