Monday, March 16, 2009

Global Water Discussions Draw 120 Nations

Photo Courtesy of the Scurry Group

Istanbul is home to the World Water Forum 2009 to address the ever-increasing water crisis. In just 21 short years (2030) one-half of the world’s population (approx. 4 billion people) will be living in areas of “acute water shortage”. In response to this finding issued in a report by the UN last week, 120 countries have convened in Istanbul in an attempt to ensure an adequate water supply worldwide and prevent wars breaking out over water resources.

Already there are growing tensions and small skirmishes between many countries fighting over rivers, lakes and glaciers. If these issues are not addressed now; we will stand no chance of addressing them later. We must make provisions now to ensure that the water-deprived areas will be provided for during future crises.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the meeting, said that water scarcity is a "potent fuel for wars and conflict," according to Reuters. Today there are 1 billion people living without access to safe drinking water and sanitation and the situation will only get bleaker. Wars and conflict don’t seem so fantastic when you ask yourself the question, “How far would I go to ensure my child(ren) had sufficient safe water to drink?"

A particularly striking example of just how far people are willing to go is the Sudan, where water shortages are one of the underlying causes of the Darfur crisis. The issue is very complex; but, the combination of decades of drought, desertification, and overpopulation are among the causes of the conflict.

Water is also a major issue between Israel and its Arab neighbors; and, the states of Central Asia. Here it is a case of one of the world's driest places, trying to grow thirsty crops (cotton and grain) as their main source of livelihood.

Meanwhile, Tajikistan has asked the World Water Forum to intercede in its dispute with Kyrgyzstan.

These cases – being played out on the world stage - will set the tone for years to come on how effective dialogue and moderation will be considered by the “dry” nations; and, consequently how willing they will be to participate in them. The dry nations, of course, have the most to lose.

By 2050, our population will have increased by 2.5 billion souls for a total of 9.1 billion of us swarming over the planet. Unfortunately, most of these births will be in countries that have problems with water shortages/scarcity already. Adding more demands to a system that cannot handle the present demands is just adding fuel to the fire. As these dryland populations increase alleviating poverty and hunger will become exponentially more difficult.

News of what specific action will be taken by the council remains vague — Reuters offers only this report:

"The heads of state, environment and development ministers, scientists and development organizations hope to draw up a list of recommendations to help safeguard water resources and to share experiences where projects have been successful."

This is a massive first step towards addressing this goliath of an issue – recognizing the coming water shortage and engaging 120 countries (and counting, hopefully) in dialogue regarding the handling of the situation.

Let’s hope it is not too little, too late. The talks take place March 16-22, 2009. Also on the agenda will be discussions on how to avert catastrophic floods and droughts as climate patterns change; and, how the global financial crisis threatens to hit large-scale water infrastructure projects with the next several years.

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