Parched future

march 22 was celebrated as World Water Day, a reminder that the water resources abounding the earth are being stressed out mainly due to the increase in human population. On March 21-22, Morocco hosted the world water forum to focus on the water scarcity around the world.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (wmo), water use has risen six-fold since 1900, more than twice as much as population. wmo experts warned that shortages of fresh water in the coming century could also spark widespread conflicts. "During the next 50 years, problems associated with a lack of water or the pollution of water bodies will affect virtually everyone on the planet," says a preparatory forum paper prepared by wmo and the un Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organization (unesco). "The result could be a series of local and regional disasters and confrontations leading to a crisis of global proportions," the paper adds.

According to Andras Szollosi-Nagy of unesco, "Many say that in the 21st century, water could be a source of serious conflict." And these pressures could be especially intense "between nations sharing a river basin", said Dieter Kramer, a wmo director.

The Asian region is particularly vulnerable. Groundwater levels in China's north plain are falling by as much as a metre a year because of heavy pumping for irrigation and urban consumption, according to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute. This could cause serious problems as the region encompasses Beijing and Tianjin, China's megacities, whose people depend heavily on the diminishing underground water reserves.

For India, Population Action International, a un body, foresees water availability sinking from 1,621 cubic meters (cu m) to 1,389 cu m per capita by ad 2025. This is despite India meeting the water sufficiency test with nearly 2,500 cu m of renewable fresh water available annually for each person. (The currently accepted test for water sufficiency is that there should be 1,600 cu m of renewable fresh water for each person per year.)

Indonesia is another problem area. Though the region receives abundant rainfall, much of it drains into the sea because of a lack of catchment areas. Most of the natural or artificial ponds have become silted or have been encroached upon by housing or development schemes.

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