Monday, March 17
The water crisis is taking a toll worse than any war
Peter Woicke, IHT, March 18, 2003

KYOTO, Japan More people are likely to suffer and die this decade from lack of clean water than from all armed conflicts combined. This should be widely regarded as one of the great tragedies of our time. But that is not the case, despite the many grim statistics.[...]

This week, water will briefly take center stage at the third World Water Forum in Japan. There is much work to be done. The world's population has tripled in the last century. Meanwhile, water use has increased sixfold, drying up rivers and ravaging about half the world's wetlands.

Access to safe water is and should be regarded as a human right. But most of the progress in addressing this challenge will be achieved through more practical and less ideological means.

Investments in infrastructure for water storage are critical, especially in countries where climatic variability is high. Such investments have multiple benefits. They provide water for consumption, industrial use, flood control, irrigation and electricity generation.

If water issues are not aggressively addressed, they may cause more wars in this century than any other natural resource. But that need not be the case.

Experience has shown that cooperative programs for development and management of water resources have played an important role in regional integration and stability in Eastern Europe (the Baltic Sea), Southeast Asia (Thailand and Laos), and South Asia (the Indus Basin). African nations, whose economic development has been hobbled by conflicts and water scarcity, are a particularly compelling example. The 10 countries of the Nile Basin are working together to generate and share benefits from the waters of the Nile.

It should not take conflict to mobilize our efforts. Even under some of the optimistic forecasts, as many as 76 million people will die from preventable water-related illnesses between now and 2020. This rate of loss rivals the rate of battlefield casualties during World War II.

Some might choose to dismiss these figures as hyperbole or wildly improbable scenarios. Unfortunately, they are real. And they should alarm all of us.

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