Reuters, August 16, 2006

Rich Countries, Like Poor, Face Water Crisis

GENEVA — Rich countries have to make drastic changes to policies if they are to avoid the water crisis that is facing poorer nations, the WWF environmental organisation said on Wednesday.

In a survey of the situation across the industrialised world, it said many cities were already losing the battle to maintain water supplies as governments talked about conservation but failed to implement their pledges.

"Supporting large-scale industry and growing populations using water at high rates has come close to exhausting the water supplies of some First World cities and is a looming threat for many, if not most, others," the report warned.

It suggested that agriculture in the richer countries should have to pay more for water and be held responsible more actively for its efficient use and for managing wastes, like salt, especially in intensive livestock farming.

From Seville in Spain to Sacramento in California and Sydney in Australia, the report said, water had become a key political issue at local, regional and national levels as climate change and loss of wetlands dramatically reduce supplies.

"At the rhetoric level, it is now generally accepted in the developed world that water must be used more efficiently and that water must be made available again to the environment in sufficient quantity for natural systems to function.

"Many countries also recognise that extensive -- and very expensive -- repairs are required to reduce some of the damage inflicted on water systems and catchments in the past," it said.

But it added: "Putting the rhetoric into practice in the face of habitual practices and intense lobbying by vested interests has been very difficult."

In Europe, the report said, countries around the Atlantic are suffering from recurring droughts, while in the Mediterranean region water resources were being depleted by the boom in tourism and irrigated agriculture.

In Australia, already the world's driest continent, salinity had become a major threat to a large proportion of key farming areas, while in the United States wide areas were using substantially more water than could be naturally replenished.

Even in Japan with its high rainfall, contamination of water supplies had become a serious issue.

The overall picture, the WWF said, would only get worse in coming years as global warming brought lower rainfall and increased evaporation of water and changed the pattern of snow melting from mountain areas.

The report proposed seven ways to tackle the problem:

conserving catchments and wetlands; balancing conservation and consumption; changing attitudes to water; repairing ageing infrastructure; increase charges to farmers for water use; reduce water contamination; and more study of water systems.

Source: Reuters

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