Water crisis hits rich countries

Posted: 24 August 2006

Water crises, long seen as a problem of only the poorest, are increasingly affecting some of the world's wealthiest nations, according to the latest overview of water issues in the developed world, timed to coincide with World Water Week (August 20-26).

In its report Rich countries, poor water WWF shows that a combination of climate change, drought and loss of wetlands, along with poorly thought out water infrastructure and resource mismanagement, is creating a truly global crisis. It documents water problems in the U and esewhere including Australia, Spain, USA and Japan.

"Economic riches don't translate to plentiful water," said Jamie Pittock, Director of WWF's Global Freshwater Programme. "Water must be used more efficiently throughout the world - scarcity and pollution are becoming more common and responsibility for finding solutions rests with both rich and poor nations."

Fresh water can no longer be considered to be a limitless resource. In Europe, countries along the Atlantic are suffering recurring droughts, while water-intensive tourism and irrigated agriculture are endangering water resources in the Mediterranean. In Australia, the world's driest continent, salinity is a major threat to a large proportion of its key agricultural areas.

Thirsdty cities

Despite high rainfall in Japan, contamination of water supplies is a serious issue in many areas. In the United States, large areas are already using substantially more water than can be naturally replenished. This situation will only be exacerbated as climate change is predicted to bring lower rainfall, increased evaporation and changed snowmelt patterns.

Some of the world's thirstiest cities such as Houston and Sydney are using more water than can be replenished. It is notable that large cities with less severe water issues such as New York, with a population of eight million, tend to have a longer tradition of conserving areas important for water management such as catchment areas and expansive green areas within their boundaries.

Pittock continued: "Regrettably, it appears that the next group of rapidly developing economies have already been seduced by major infrastructure plans, such as large dams, with inadequate consideration of whether such projects will meet water needs or inflict human and natural costs."

Wake-up call

In Brazil, despite leading the world with its national water resources plan, concerns remain over some existing dam proposals. In India much of its agriculture is under threat from rampant overexploitation of water resources. Elsewhere, China has raised international concerns over the scale and possible ecological and human costs of some of its massive water infrastructure plans.

"The crisis in rich nations is proof that wealth and infrastructure are no substitute for protecting rivers and wetlands, and restoring floodplain areas," added Pittock.

The water problems affecting rich and poor alike are a wake-up call to return to protecting nature as the source of water. As we approach World Water Week governments must find solutions for both rich and poor, which include repairing ageing infrastructure, reducing contaminants, and changing irrigation practices in the way we grow crops.

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