In March 2000, the Ministerial Declaration of the Second World Water Forum in the Hague, The Netherlands, set water security as a principal concern for sustainable development in the 21st century. The global statistics speak for themselves. Approximately one in three people live in regions of moderate to high water stress and it is estimated that two thirds of people will live in water stressed conditions by 2025 (WBGU, 1999; UNEP, 1999). Human demand for and the misuse of water resources continue to grow. Intensive irrigation is placing steadily increasing pressure on aquifers and their ability to recharge, and reported incidences of groundwater and surface water contamination continue to rise. In large cities, total municipal and industrial uses of water have grown by 24 times in the last century and urban populations are expected to grow to 5 billion people by 2025. Some large-scale water infrastructure projects, and an intensification and greater frequency of natural threats, such as flooding and droughts, are having a devastating impact on people’s livelihood and access to water. These pressures are also placing freshwater ecosystems and their associated species under enormous strain. The critical issues for water security, in terms of the causes and the resultant impacts, are particular to each locality and region of the world (see Table 23.1). Regional issues related to global water insecurity

Key issues

Asia & Pacific

• Critical health problems: In Asia, 1 in 3 people lacks access to safe drinking water; 500,000 infants die each year from diarrhoeal diseases related to a lack of adequate WSS.

• Water pollution: In many countries bacterial waste from human sources exceeds levels recommended in OECD guidelines by ten times.

• Overuse: Agriculture accounts for 90 per cent of freshwater withdrawals in South Asia. Aquifer depletion in Asia has led to a drop in water availability per capita from 10,000 m3 in 1950 to 4200 m3 in the 1990s. West Asia faces particular pressure on groundwater resources, where withdrawals far exceed natural recharge rates.


• Poverty and water scarcity: 25 countries will face water stress or scarcity by 2025. Over 300 million people lack access to safe water supply. Nearly 51 per cent of people in sub-Saharan countries lack access to safe supply and 41 per cent lack adequate sanitation. Fourteen countries are already experiencing water stress. The number is expected to rise to 25 countries by 2025. Approximately 16 per cent of the continent’s 230 million people will be subject to water scarcity in 2025.

• Uneven distribution of water resources: Natural variation and a lack of regional basin level planning are exacerbating uneven distribution.

• Overuse: Lack of groundwater protection from agricultural uses, which makes up 88 per cent of total water use.

• Lack of risk preparedness and mitigation: Flooding, droughts and storms displace human settlements and have chronic health effects. For example, in Mozambique over 1 million people were displaced by the floods in 1999/2000 and an unknown number killed.

Europe & Central Asia

• Lack of access to drinking water: Many parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia lack access to safe drinking water.

• Increasing water consumption: Demand has grown from 100 km3 1950 to 560 km3 in early 1990s. Agriculture accounts for 60 per cent of water use in the Mediterranean and a further 90 per cent in Central Asia. More than half Europe’s cities are overexploiting groundwater reserves. Industrial and urban uses are 55 per cent of total water use and current levels are expected to double by 2025.

• Declining water quality: Many countries report groundwater pollution (nitrates, pesticides, heavy metals and hydrocarbons) impacting watersheds, aquifers and associated biota, eg Mediterranean, Aral Sea, Scandinavian lakes. Nitrate levels in many parts of western and central Europe exceed max. admissible human consumption (EU Drinking Water Directive).

Latin America & Caribbean

• Groundwater contamination and depletion: Release of heavy metals, nutrients, chemicals and hazardous wastes from mining, agriculture and industry are growing. Sanitation: Only 2 per cent of all sewage produced in Latin America receives treatment with considerable health and environmental risks, eg cholera and typhoid outbreaks.

• Conflict over access and use of water: many national water policies fail to incorporate integrated approach to management environmental limits or rights of access to water, and lack coordination between regulatory agencies.

North America

• Aquifer depletion: demand on water resources, especially from fossil stores, has steadily increased due to population growth, municipal, expansion of irrigation and industry, eg cotton farming in Texas and New Mexico have reduced water supplies. Canada and the US are the world’s largest per capita users of water globally.

• Water pollution: agrochemical runoff and non-point sources of water pollutants have contaminated many ground and surface waters. Detection of Mercury, PCBs, DDT found in fish from water pollution have led to warnings about fish consumption.

Notes: Adequate access: 20 litres per person per day from a source located within 1 km of users’ dwelling. Water stress: less than 1700 m3 per capita per year (OECD 1999)

Sources: WBGU, 1999; UNEP, 1999; ECOSOC, 2000