Despite recent floods Australia is still the worlds driest continent. Only 5 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 percent of freshwater used globally as the problem area. Agricultural use of water is likely to rise by at least 19 percent by 2050 as the world’s population swells an estimated 2 billion people to 9 billion. To meet the population demands farmers will need to grow 70 percent 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 from 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 not only for farmers but for cities that rely on these water flows.

Worldwide as demand increases for water supply in many regions is likely to shrink because of changed rainfall patterns, greater 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 effect food production through to 2030. Asia in particular is suffering water stress with 60 percent 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 forecast world water demand would rise by 55 percent by 2050, with more than 40 percent of the global population likely to live in water basins facing water stress.  With limited supply governments will have to better manage the competing demands of farmers, energy producers and humans demanding drinking water and sanitation. Policy interaction is required to change now between the diverse communities of users, decision makers and isolated water managers because to date a lack of co-ordinated policy has caused serious degradation of the water resources in all countries.

The World Health Organisation, (WHO) has confirmed the United Nations aim to raise the proportion of people with access to safe potable drinking water by 2015 had actually been reached at the end of 2010. This is despite the fact that  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.

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