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BBC News Online's Alex Kirby reports
"Already the charity claims the scale of water shortage is alarming"
 real 28k

Andy Atkins, Tearfund
"It is tragic if it carries on this way"
 real 56k

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge, in Delhi
"80 per cent of disease and death across the developing world is to do with the absence of safe water"
 real 28k

Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 00:00 GMT
World warned on water refugees
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Two people in three across the world will face water shortages by 2025, a UK charity claims.

Many of these people will be forced from their homes to seek clean water supplies elsewhere, according to the charity, Tearfund, a relief and development agency.

Water AFP
People will be forced from their homes to seek water
It says global water consumption rose more than twice as fast as world population over the last century.

And dwindling water resources could make food supplies prohibitively expensive for more than a billion people.

In a report, Running on Empty, published to mark World Water Day on Thursday, Tearfund says the world's water supply is not keeping pace with the demands being made on it.

Shrinking lakes

Although efficient water management will enable rich parts of the world to cope, poorer countries will suffer massively, the report says.

With consumption having risen six-fold between 1900 and 1995, Tearfund says, the developing world should prepare to greet millions of "water refugees", people forced to leave their homes in search of clean supplies.

Already, the charity claims, the scale of water shortage is alarming:

  • 20m people in six countries in west and central Africa rely on Lake Chad for water. The lake has shrunk by 95% in the last 38 years;
  • two-thirds of China's cities are facing severe water shortages;
  • in Iran, up to 60% of people living in rural areas could be forced by drought to migrate to the cities;
  • the level of the Aral Sea in central Asia, formerly the world's fourth biggest inland sea, has dropped 16 metres (53 feet), and its area has almost halved.
By 2025, Tearfund says, the volume of water needed to produce food is expected to have increased by at least 50%, because of population growth and the demand for higher living standards.

Basic human right

Tearfund claims the growth of water shortages threatens to reduce the global food supply by more than 10%.

Agriculture already takes more than 70% of the world's fresh water, with the proportion rising to more than 90% in Asia and Africa.

Water is a basic human right. Without it, societies wither and people die

Joanne Green, Tearfund's policy officer
In a water-scarce world, poor countries will have to choose whether to use their water for irrigation, or for domestic and industrial purposes.

"For the 1.3bn of the world's population who live on US $1 a day or less, higher grain prices could quickly become life-threatening," the report notes.

Joanne Green, Tearfund's policy officer, said: "Water is a basic human right. Without it, societies wither and people die. Yet today we are standing on the brink of a global water crisis which could deprive billions of people of access to clean water.

"We have successfully harnessed water for energy, industry and irrigation, but at an increasingly terrible cost."

Exhausted reserves

The report says there are several causes for the unfolding crisis, including the failure by developing countries to regulate, manage and invest in water.

Water AFP
Two in three people across the world will face water shortages by 2025
When this is coupled with population growth the dilemma is made much worse.

China, for example, Tearfund says, stands to see its population grow from 1.2bn today to 1.5bn in 2030, while its demand for water goes up by 66% over the same period.

It claims another factor exacerbating the crisis is global warming, with some scientists predicting an increase in droughts and the spread of deserts.

And Tearfund says many countries are using their groundwater reserves at an unsustainable rate, with India a glaring example - Delhi may have exhausted its reserves within 15 years.

A 90-second shower

It says about 40% of the world's people live with drinking water shortages today, a figure which over the next quarter century could rise to 66%.

Tearfund welcomes the UK Government's strategy for tackling the water crisis, which includes halving the proportion of people unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water by 2015.

The charity wants water high on the agenda of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Joanne Green said: "In the UK each person still has an average of 150 litres of water a day at their disposal.

"In some of the poorest countries, people are surviving on a daily ration the equivalent of a 90-second shower, or less."

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