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EDITIONS
 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 10:40 GMT
UN makes water point
Groundwater, Unep source

The United Nations has hit on a novel way to depict the gravity of the world's growing water crisis.

Water-related problems have been recognised as the most immediate and serious threats to humankind

Salif Diop, Unep
It is publishing a report on the quantity, quality and availability of global water supplies that relies on graphics rather than text to deliver its message.

The report is supplemented by CD-Roms and other audio-visual material.

The authors believe this will prove a more effective way of alerting the world to what is happening.

'Glaring gaps'

The report, Vital Water Graphics, is published by the UN Environment Programme (Unep), which worked with other UN agencies, international organisations and individual experts to produce it.

Water usage, Unep
On this map, red indicates where industry dominates water usage; purple shows heavy domestic use, too
It illustrates problems such as the world's growing waste of water, the reduction in freshwater supplies, and the sharp fall in size of the Aral Sea, Lake Chad and the marshlands of Mesopotamia.

Dr Klaus Toepfer, Unep's executive director, said the "visually compelling" report would be an effective tool for years to come.

Unep says there is good information on water resources in Europe and North America, but "glaring gaps" in some of the data for Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia.

The report identifies trends and offers forecasts, and will be updated periodically to include new material.

Critical issues

One chart shows how the amount of freshwater wasted by different sectors is rising.

In 2000, agriculture and domestic use each wasted 800 cubic km of water, and industry 400 cubic km.

WATER RESOURCES
Almost 50% of the world's coasts are threatened by development
Fish-farming, on land and at sea, now produces 30% of global supplies
Agriculture uses about 75% of global water consumption and industry 20%
By 2025, the report estimates, those figures will have risen to 1000, 1100 and 500 cubic km respectively.

By then, an estimated 300 cubic km of water will be lost as well through evaporation from reservoirs, up 50% from 2000.

Salif Diop heads the water unit in Unep's division of early warning and assessment. He said: "Water-related problems have been recognised as the most immediate and serious threats to humankind.

"Vital Water Graphics is a valuable complement to existing assessments of world water resources and to the tools available for raising public awareness of these critical issues - issues that will determine the very future of life on Earth."

World Water Day

Halifa Drammeh of Unep's division of policy development and law told BBC News Online: "The report certainly has some added value. Some of the previous reports we've produced take a lot of reading.

"But a visual presentation like this, backed up by other materials, is going to take the message further down the line."

The report says global water use has more than tripled since 1950, and one person in six has no regular access to safe drinking water.

The number of children who die every day because of unsafe water is estimated at 41,000. But drinking water supplies for poor people would be doubled with just a 10% improvement in the efficiency of irrigation.

There is some good news: the number of people with some form of improved water supply rose from 4.1 billion (79% of the world's population) to 4.9 billion (82%) in 2000.

The report is being launched as a contribution to World Water Day 2003, which is 22 March.

The Third World Water Forum is being held in Japan from 16 to 23 March as part of the UN's International Year of Freshwater.

See also:

02 Jun 00 | Science/Nature
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