U.N. Warning Precedes World Water Day Celebrations

LONDON – World Water Day is being celebrated Wednesday to coincide with the end of the Fourth World Water Forum which opened in Mexico City last week.

The celebration comes following a warning from the United Nations on Tuesday that water shortages are leading to more problems than simply a lack of fresh drinking water.

According to the U.N. Environmental Program’s Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA) report released Tuesday, “Freshwater shortages are likely to trigger increased environmental damage over the next 15 years.”

The list of dangers ranges from severe pollution, species loss and even food security, with billions of people around the world already faced with severe freshwater shortages, triggered by massive damming and depleted aquifers, Agence-France Presse reported.

U.N. figures reveal that some 1.1 billion people already go without safe drinking water and 2.6 billion, or 40 percent of the world’s population, lack decent sanitation.

Further environmental problems including falls in river flows, rising saltiness in biologically-rich estuaries, and the reduction in coastline sediment.

The U.N. study predicts that these environmental problems will lead to a serious loss of fish and aquatic plant life, shrinking farmland, damage to fisheries and food insecurity by the year 2020.

“In recent decades, water has fallen in our esteem," read a statement on the website of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – the U.N. agency chosen to coordinate this year's World Water Day, when events will be held across the globe to celebrate this vital resource.

The U.N. study said that the culmination of all the water-related changes would be increases in malnutrition and disease.

The UNESCO statement also criticized the transformation of water from a natural resource into a marketable product.

“No longer an element to be revered and protected, it is a consumer product that we have shamefully neglected," it said.

A water report, Pipe Dreams, was also released by U.K.-based Tearfund on Wednesday to coincide with World Water Day.

In the report, the Evangelical Christian aid and development agency revealed that European Union aid for water and sanitation has declined year by year.

Tearfund made an urgent appeal for the doubling of aid to $30 billion (USD) for water and sanitation.

UNESCO chose as the theme for this year’s World Water Day “Water and Culture” – a theme that follows on from the cries of experts at the Mexico forum to decentralize water management and return to more traditional methods as the “intelligent” way to reform.

"Technology alone ... will not lead us to viable solutions," read a statement from UNESCO director general Koichiro Matsuura.

"It is vital that water management and governance take cultural traditions, indigenous practices and societal values into serious account" to reach "sustainable solutions that contribute to equity, peace and development," he said.

The U.N. study also indicted governments for the heavy subsidization of factors they are contributing considerably to environmental degradation and pollution, particularly pesticides and herbicide, water for irrigation and dam construction.

Areas already showing signs of the affect of water pollution are some of the gems of the natural world, including numerous regions across Southeast Asia, Caribbean coral reefs and river habitats, as well as east African rift Valley lakes.

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