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Despite recent floods, Australia is still the world’s driest continent. Only five years ago, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane were on the verge of running out of potable water. Not only in Australia but across the world, the water supply is being strained by climate change and the growing food, energy and sanitary needs of a fast-growing population. The United Nations has completed a study that calls for a radical rethink of national policies to manage potable fresh drinking water.

The United Nations report released by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova points out the following on the management of the worlds drinking water:

  • Freshwater is not being used sustainably
  • Accurate information remains disparate, and management is fragmented
  • The future is increasingly uncertain, and risks are set to deepen

The report identifies the demand from agriculture, which already sucks up around 70 per cent of freshwater used globally, as the problem area. Agricultural use of water is likely to rise by at least 19 per cent by 2050 as the world’s population swells from an estimated 2 billion people to 9 billion. In addition, to meet the population demands, farmers will need to grow 70 per cent more food by 2050 as rising living standards mean individuals demand more food and meat in particular.

In Australia, a silent revolution has taken place underground, as the amount of water sucked below the surface from the vast underground aquifers has tripled in the past 50 years, removing a buffer against drought. This is occurring in many other countries and is causing alarm for farmers and cities that rely on these water flows.

Worldwide as demand increases for water supply in many regions is likely to shrink because of changing rainfall patterns, more significant droughts, melting glaciers and altered river flows. Water stress is already being felt in Australia, South-East Asia and Africa, with climate change predicted to drastically affect food production through 2030. Asia, in particular, is suffering water stress, with 60 per cent of the world’s population but only around a third of water resources. Unless management policies are drastically altered by 2070, water stress will also be felt in central and southern Europe.

A separate water study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released last week forecasted world water demand would rise by 55 per cent by 2050, with more than 40 per cent of the global population likely to live in water basins facing water stress.  With limited supply, governments will have to manage better the competing demands of farmers, energy producers and humans demanding drinking water and sanitation. Policy interaction must change now between the diverse communities of users, decision-makers and isolated water managers. To date, a lack of coordinated policy has caused severe degradation of the water resources in all countries.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed that the United Nations aims to raise the proportion of people with access to safe potable drinking water by 2015, which was reached at the end of 2010. Even though  French charity Solidarites International states, 1.9 billion people remained without safe drinking water, not the 783 million estimated by the United Nations.

Water remains the basis of all life, and its management is a world problem that needs tackling now.

Whywait Plumbing believes simple things matter with water conservation, such as low flush toilets, low flow taps, the moderate water pressure of 500kPa and using waterless urinals.