Ref. :  000031400
Date :  2009-03-20
Language :  English
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Water – 71% of the Earth's surface, but still scarce


A desolate planet where the most prized asset is water - that is the scenario in Frank Herbert's science fiction novel "Dune". Written as fiction in 1965, today it seems in some respects like it could be future reality due to population growth, climate change and pollution. Today more than 1 billion people have no access to clean drinking water - a figure that could be 3 billion in 20 years. MEPs debated water ahead of World Water Day and the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul on 16 - 22 March.

Water means life

Globally more than 1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water and around 2.5 billion lack access to basic sanitation.

As part of its millennium goals the UN has set itself the task of halving the number of people without safe drinking water by 2015. Despite this, studies have predicted that by 2027 nearly 3 billion people could be without safe drinking water.

The need is profound: in the developing world water borne diseases are responsible for 80% of illnesses and deaths. Children are among the most at risk and a child born in the developed world consumes 30 to 50 times as much water as a child in the developing world.

What are the causes of water shortages? The main causes are population growth, the use of water in agriculture (70% of global water usage is in agriculture), poverty, poor water management and political instability.

In the 21st century, climate change will increase desertification in Africa - leading to "water immigration" to places like the EU which has water supplies. Africa will also suffer the brunt of a large population increase.

Water in Europe: golf courses and tourism take toll

Although Europe has sufficient supplies of water, it still has many problems due to wastage, and pollution. There are also fierce controversies over what many consider to be the "misuse" of water, for example watering your roses or a golf course. In Spain where golf tourism is well developed the annual water needed for all the golf courses was recently calculated as being equivalent to the needs of a city of 12,000 inhabitants.

Tourism can also be harmful - as a tourist staying in a hotel uses on average one third more water than a local inhabitant. The total number of tourists heading for Mediterranean coastlines is expected to rise to between 235 to 355 million per year by 2025 putting added burdens on water supplies.

Last October MEPs adopted a resolution on water scarcity and droughts in Europe, calling for the creation of a water saving culture. In March this year MEPs also called on the Commission to develop water awareness programmes in the Union and in the partner countries.

Water as a strategic resource

Around 2.8 billion people live in places affected by water stress and this figure will rise to 3.9 billion by 2030. Global water shortages could result in new conflicts and create millions of water refugees in the developing world. Some experts have predicted that the wars of the future will not be fought over oil, but over water.

A major source of tension in key regions throughout the world is access to clean water. Most problematic are the regions that share the same rivers. The "upper stream" countries could potentially physically cut off the flow of water.

Examples of areas that share the same water source are the River Nile which is shared by 9 countries and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which are shared by Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Egypt is 100% dependent on water from the Nile - both for its population and to irrigate its agriculture. Its population is expected to double, exerting new pressures on supply and a question some are asking is: will "downstream" Ethiopia or Sudan suffer the consequences?

Turkey is currently engaged in the "GAP" project (building of 22 dams and 18 hydro powers). Some commentators say that once fully operational, the GAP Project may reduce Euphrates water to Syria by 40% and Iraq by up to 80%. At present 80% water of Syria is based on rivers coming from Turkey.

Water as a human right

The resolution passed On 11 March this year notes that water distribution is extremely unequal and that water is a shared resource of mankind and that access to drinking water should constitute a fundamental and universal right. Also that it should not be an economically tradable good, subject only to the rules of the market.

MEPs also called for all necessary efforts to be made to guarantee access to water for the most deprived populations by 2015. It calls on the EU members, despite the financial crisis, to increase their contribution to official development aid in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal relating to supplies of drinking water.

MEPs participate in the World Water Forum

A Delegation of 5 MEPs of the Environment and Development Committees of Parliament will participate in the 5th World Water Forum to be held in Istanbul from 16-22 March. Several bilaterals are scheduled with representatives from civil society, trade unions and the private sector.



- Further information :

* Oral Question on 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul
* EP water Resolution 12 March
* Water scarcity and droughts in the EU
* World Water Forum / Istanbul
* World Water Day 2009
* Gorbachev and Prince Albert of Monaco at the EO for "peace with water" event, 12 Feb


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