UN fears developing nations will spark global shortage of clean water

Surging appetite for fresh water and electricity - especially in developing countries - threatens to put 40pc of the world under 'severe stress'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 10:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 10:35pm


Surging populations and economies in the developing world will cause dual problems sparked by demand for water and energy in the coming decades, the UN says.

In its World Water Development Report - published yesterday to coincide with its World Water Day today - the UN says the need for clean water and electricity are linked and could badly strain earth's limited resources.

Asia would become the biggest hot spot for conflict over water extraction, where water sources straddle national borders. "Areas of conflict include the Aral Sea and the Ganges-Brahmaputra River, Indus River and Mekong River basins," the report said.

Also, global energy demand, may rise by more than a third by 2035, with China, India and Middle Eastern countries accounting for 60 per cent of the increase.

"Demand for fresh water and energy will continue to increase over the coming decades to meet the needs of growing populations and economies, changing lifestyles and evolving consumption patterns, greatly amplifying existing pressures on limited natural resources and on ecosystems," the report says.

Today, 768 million people lack access to safe, reliable water supplies and 2.5 billion have no decent sanitation; at least 1.3 billion have no mains electricity.

About 20 per cent of global aquifers - bodies of permeable rock containing groundwater supplies - are depleted, the report says; agriculture accounts for more than two-thirds of the world's water use.

The report is the fifth overview prepared by Unesco, the UN's educational, scientific and cultural agency, using scientific studies and investigations.

It says more fresh water will be needed for farming, building, drinking, cooking, washing and sewerage, but also for energy production - 90 per cent of which uses water-intensive techniques.

Global water demand is likely to rise by 55per cent by 2050. By then, more than 40 per cent of the world's population will be living in areas of "severe" water stress, many living in the area of land from North Africa and the Middle East to western South Asia, it says.

Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, which use far less water, are gaining ground, and accounted for about a fifth of global electricity output in 2011, the report says. But they are unlikely to expand this share significantly if fossil fuels keep receiving the bulk of subsidies.

Oil, gas and coal had subsidies of US$523 billion in 2011, nearly 30 per cent more than in 2010, compared with US$88 billion for renewables, the report says.

Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean have potential for hydro-energy, which reuses water, the report says. But hydroelectric dams, such as the Three Gorges Dam, on the Yangtze River, in Hubei , China, which flooded a huge area of land an displaced more than a million people, have been very controversial. Big projects deliver gigawatts of power, but critics say they are ecologically damaging and prone to huge cost overruns.

The report also calls for a global efficiency efforts, including in the Middle East, where up to 60per cent of water is wasted through leaks or evaporation.