It may seem that the water crisis and the crisis in the financial markets are poles apart. But the latest U.N. World Water Development Report says, “Water is linked to the crises of climate change, energy and food supplies and prices, and troubled financial markets.”
“Unless their links with water are addressed and water crises around the world resolved, these other crises may intensify and local water crises may worsen, converging into a global water crisis and leading to political insecurity and conflict at various levels,” the report cautions,
There is more bad news. The total usable freshwater supply for ecosystems and humans is less than 1 per cent of all freshwater resources. U.N.-Water, a wing of the U.N., says water use has been growing at twice the rate of population increase in the last century. It predicts that by 2025, 180 crore people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world's population could be under stress conditions.
The Global Environment Outlook 4, the latest report of the United Nations Environment Programme, has found that the per capita availability of freshwater is declining, in part because of excessive withdrawals of surface and groundwater. It has concluded that water withdrawals are predicted to increase by 50 per cent by 2025 in developing countries.
On the other hand, the Water World Assessment Programme of the U.N. says half of the world's wetlands have been lost since 1900. Land conversion, it points out, eliminates key components of the aquatic environment, leads to loss of habitat and biodiversity, alters run-off patterns, inhibits natural recharge and fills water bodies with silt. Thereby, we are losing natural flood control, habitats for fisheries and waterfowl, recreation, water supply, water quantity and quality.
Evidence of this can be seen as one enters Mangalore from B.C. Road. Loads of mud and debris have been dumped on the banks of the Netravati abutting the national highway.
Taking serious note of this, environmentalist Dinesh Holla said, “People look at only the commercial gain and overlook the negative impact. What one fails to realise is that a lot of trees grow around a water body, lots of birds visit it and bring seeds of trees from the forest and contribute greatly to biodiversity,” he said.
The announcement in the latest State Budget that 1,000 lakes would be revived should come as good news. U.N.-Water has said that water and water systems must be managed to achieve social and economic development objectives and to sustain development. They can ensure equity and security in water and sanitation for families, businesses and communities.
It said the challenges were great, but unsustainable management and inequitable access to water resources could not continue. “We may not have all the information we need before acting, but we do know enough now to begin and to take significant steps.”
Pointing out that economic development has always been accompanied by water development, the body says investment in water management has been repaid through livelihood security and reductions in health risks, vulnerability and ultimately poverty.
Water contributes to poverty alleviation in many ways — through sanitation services, water supply, affordable food and enhanced resilience of poor communities faced with disease, climate shocks and environmental degradation. Water of the right quality can improve health through better sanitation and hygiene and, when applied at the right time, it can enhance the productivity of land, labour and other productive inputs.