The theme of this year's World Water Day is Coping with Water Scarcity. This is a very fitting subject, given the United Nation's prediction that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in regions or countries with "absolute water scarcity." Drinking water, agriculture, sanitation and sustainable industry — none are possible without access to water and all are required to lift regions out of poverty. In the UN's definition, water scarcity does not mean only drought. There are regions with chronic shortages and vast drylands, such as North East and North Africa, Pakistan. There is also a shortage of fresh water—as populations grow, so does the need for more water. Irrigation drains away much of the fresh water available but it is needed for 40% of the crops for mankind. Some of the statistics about water shortage are shocking. More than one billion of the world's population don't have access to the minimum requirements of 20-50 litres of fresh water daily. Two in 5 lack proper sanitation facilities and 3800 children a day die from diseases related to lack of clean water and sanitation. Having identified the key reasons for water scarcity, it is chilling to read the World Wildlife Fund's report "World's Top 10 Rivers at Risk" because it identifies ten rivers under serious threat for exactly the same reasons as the UN has defined.
It warns that many of the world's biggest rivers are facing collapse because of wasteful attitudes to water use and destruction of eco-systems. The ten rivers identified include the Ganges, the Danube, the Nile and Lake Victoria in North Africa, and the Yangtze in China. The report says that these rivers are so polluted, over-used and destroyed by dams that marine life is threatened as are important sources of fresh water. The Nile will face scarcity of drinking water by 2025. The Rio Grande is practically dry. In India, tributaries of the Ganges are beginning to dry up as water is diverted for irrigation—and one in twelve people depend on its water for fishing and farming. Even the Danube, which has been hailed as bright spot and example of improved management by the UN, has lost 80% of its wetlands and flood plains due to too many dams. The head of the Freshwater Programme says that "conservation of rivers and wetlands and security of water flows must be seen as part and parcel of national security, health and economic success." He added that we must change our mindset now or pay the price in the not so distant future. :: World Wildlife Fund and :: World Water Day 07