The recommendations made by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Chapter 18 of Agenda 21 – Protecting the Quality and Availability of Freshwater Resources: An Integrated Approach to Water Resources Development, Management and Use, the resolution to establish “World Water Day” aims to make the whole world pay attention to and solve the problem of water shortage, otherwise, the water crisis may come sooner than the food crisis or the oil crisis. According to data provided by the United Nations, as of March 1994, approximately 1 billion people did not have an adequate supply of clean drinking water. Worldwide, 6,000 to 35,000 children die every day due to lack of drinking water or its consequences, with Africa being the most severe.
“Water has the potential to become a rarity in the 21st century,” wrote the preface to a document jointly prepared by the World Meteorological Organization and UNESCO for the World Water Forum in Marrakech. The meeting was attended by representatives of six international agencies of the United Nations, some major development banks, as well as NGOs and the private sector. “Things must now be found to avoid international conflict over water scarcity,” the experts wrote. At the same time, they also emphasized: “In the next 50 years, various problems related to water scarcity and large-scale water pollution will be related to virtually all inhabitants of the earth.”
According to United Nations statistics, since the 21st century, the world’s freshwater consumption has increased sevenfold due to population growth. In recent years, annual freshwater use has reached 3.24 trillion cubic meters. Currently, approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide lack drinking water. In addition, the consumption of fresh water varies widely among countries in the world. Americans consume 600L of water per day, Europeans consume 200L, and Africans only consume 30L.
By 2050, the global population is likely to nearly double, and the demand for water will increase twice as fast as the population. In August 1998, the public health group of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, USA published a report that by 2025, the population facing water shortages will increase from nearly 500 million at the time to 2.8 billion, the global population will reach 8 billion by then. There are currently 31 countries in the world with water shortages, but population pressures will increase that number to 48 by 2025. In 1996, humans used 54 percent of the world’s freshwater; population growth will increase that number to 70 percent or more in the next 30 years, the report said.
The World Meteorological Organization issued a report on March 22, 1997, “World Water Day”, pointing out that with the rapid increase of the world’s population, a freshwater crisis may occur in the 21st century, and governments and people of various countries should attach great importance to this. The report says that the world’s freshwater consumption has increased six to seven times since the early 20th century, twice as fast as population growth. The report predicts that the world’s per capita freshwater possession will decrease by 1/3 from 7300m3 in 1995 to 4800m3 in 2025. At the same time, there will be more and more water-deficient areas in the world, and the situation of competition between agriculture, industry and domestic water will become more tense. The report calls on mankind to cherish the freshwater resources, which only account for 2.5% of the earth’s water, attach great importance to the looming water crisis, and formulate specific measures to strengthen the management of water resources.
The severe and complex freshwater resource problems faced by human beings are, first of all, uneven distribution of water resources (40% of the world’s inhabitants suffer from water shortages), poor management of water resources, and serious waste. According to statistics, about 70% of the water extracted from the ground is used for farmland irrigation, and even 90% in developing countries. 23% of groundwater is used for industrial production and only 7% is used for domestic use. And because of the traditional irrigation technology, the water evaporates into steam before it reaches the roots of the crops. The leakage rate of urban water supply pipes is also as high as 50%.
Second, the pollution of freshwater resources is becoming more and more serious. According to the World Health Organization, at least 15 million people in the world die every year from diseases caused by water pollution, and dysentery alone kills four to five million children every year. Mosquito-borne malaria fed by swamp sewage infects 1 billion people a year and kills 2.7 million, including 1 million African children. What is especially sobering is that the main cause of water pollution is not natural disasters, but human behavior. Of the Earth’s existing water resources, the dwindling and polluted groundwater resources are of particular concern. At present, about 1/2 of the world’s people drink or use groundwater. With the rapid increase of population and the accelerating process of industrialization and urbanization, human’s demand for groundwater is increasing day by day. While people are exploiting groundwater without limit, they do not pay attention to and have insufficient ability to protect groundwater resources. As a result, human pollutants have gradually seeped into the thick formations, contaminating groundwater that used to be considered the safest and cleanest. At present, groundwater in many cities around the world has been polluted to varying degrees, and some are no longer suitable for human consumption. Controlling over-exploitation of groundwater and preventing groundwater pollution will become one of the most urgent tasks for the countries concerned in the next few years.
Increased pollution and waste, as well as unreasonable exploitation of groundwater, increased water use by more than 100% in the Americas between 1950 and 1990, more than 300% in Africa, and nearly 500% in Europe. The Asia-Pacific region, especially South and East Asia, is experiencing increasing water scarcity. Taking India as an example, about 45 million people currently lack access to clean water, and nearly 1 million children die every year from various diseases caused by drinking unclean water or other sanitation problems. Across East Asia, only 1 in 3 people have access to sanitized water.