Water Crisis Looms, UN Says

 Calgary Herald, Saturday April 10, 1999

This planet is on the verge of a fresh-water crisis that will be the key factor in future international conflicts if the issue isn't tackled soon,
says the director of a United Nations research centre.  It would take about $25 billion a year over 8 to 10 years to bring safe water and sanitation to all those who need it, says Ralph Daley of the International Network of Water, Environment and Health at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Without that funding, civil strife over water supplies is inevitable, says Daley, using Mexico as an example.  'The head of the water agency for Mexico City recently said that if something isn't done to improve their water situation soon, he fully expects a civil war in Mexico over water supplies in the Mexico Valley,' he says.

Nearly 47 per cent of the land area of the world has international water basins that are shared by two or more countries.  Daley cited Jordan and
Israel, who share the Jordan River as a water supply but distribution is controlled by Israel.  In late March 1999, the Israeli government announced it was cutting the water going to Jordan by 40 per cent.  'Before his death, King Hussein of Jordan said the only thing he would go to war with Israel over was water,' Daley told a Canadian Bar Association symposium on water law.

Canada may be protected from running out of safe water, but it isn't safe from the indirect effects a global water crisis could cause.  'If the water
shortages and human health problems in developing countries continue to deteriorate it will have a tremendous effect on development in those
countries which means in turn they aren't buying from countries like Canada,' says Daley.  'In more extreme cases, if countries erupt into war
over water, Canada could inevitably be drawn in.'

Currently, 20 per cent of the world's population faces severe water shortages every day, a figure that will rise to 30 per cent in the next 25
years, according to statistics compiled by UN and the World Health Organization.  The UN also says 80 per cent of diseases in developing
countries results from unsafe water, causing 5.3 million deaths each year.

'In the semi-arid countries of the developing world, you are going to see rapidly increasing disease and death rates,' he said.  'You are going to see more and more immigration from rural areas to urban areas and urban cities progressively becoming unable to keep up with the explosive numbers and demands for water.'

Footnote - more people die from unsafe water annually than from wars and other violence.


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