Water scarcity 'now bigger threat than financial crisis'
By 2030, more than half the world's population will live in high-risk areas
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
March 15, 2009
Humanity is facing "water bankruptcy" as a result of a crisis even greater than the financial meltdown now destabilising the global economy, two authoritative new reports show. They add that it is already beginning to take effect, and there will be no way of bailing the earth out of water scarcity.
The two reports – one by the world's foremost international economic forum and the other by 24 United Nations agencies – presage the opening tomorrow of the most important conference on the looming crisis for three years. The World Water Forum, which will be attended by 20,000 people in Istanbul, will hear stark warnings of how half the world's population will be affected by water shortages in just 20 years' time, with millions dying and increasing conflicts over dwindling resources.
A report by the World Economic Forum, which runs the annual Davos meetings of the international business and financial elite, says that lack of water, will "soon tear into various parts of the global economic system" and "start to emerge as a headline geopolitical issue".
It adds: "The financial crisis gives us a stark warning of what can happen if known economic risks are left to fester. We are living in a water 'bubble' as unsustainable and fragile as that which precipitated the collapse in world financial markets. We are now on the verge of bankruptcy in many places with no way of paying the debt back." (...)
The World Water Development Report, compiled by 24 UN agencies under the auspices of Unesco, adds that shortages are already beginning to constrain economic growth in areas as diverse and California, China, Australia, India and Indonesia. The report, which will be published tomorrow, also expects water conflicts to break out in the Middle East, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Colombia and other countries.
"Conflicts about water can occur at all scales," it warns. "Hydrological shocks" brought about by climate change are likely to "increase the risk of major national and international security threats".