Water scarcity, water pollution: The global crisis
Sharif Shahabuddin

WATER security for the 21st century has become an issue of prime concern for the world community today. The international organisations including United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Water Commission have been striving to ensure safe drinking water for the people of the world. They are especially concerned about the people of the developing countries where every year, between 5 and 6 million people die from water-borne diseases and air pollution.With a view to achieving a sustainable water management, through which a freshwater security will have to be pronounced as a fundamental goal for a developing society, the World Water Forum held in The Hague, in Netherlands, recommended quite a number of areas of water-related issues to address. It discussed issues of particular interest that include how water for crucial purpose like drinking and local food production can be secured. It also discussed how threats from water pollution in various parts of the world can be minimised by restructuring of industries; and how to disseminate the knowledge needed for achieving of water security.After the World Water Forum another big occasion is scheduled to be held in Stockholm. The main agenda before the water experts will be to find out innovative solutions in striving towards a transition from problem to opportunity, to produce more with less water and less pollution loads and increasing awareness, literacy, solidarity and stewardship in society through innovative educational campaigns in an effort to make water everybody's business.Water is the key to socio-economic development and quality of life. Since water represents a profound need of both organisms and society, a crucial question is how that need can be satisfied in a secure manner.All sorts of development programmes and activities tend to take water for granted, all over the world, resulting in the present and imminent water crisis. Three main systems have to be conjunctively prompted and benefited from: the life support systems of the planet with its many different processes and interacting ecological system; and human ingenuity as demonstrated throughout the millennia of expanding societies and growing welfare.At the same time, socio-economic development is a key to water security in an increasingly water stressed situation where more and more waste is being produced as an inseparable part of human activities. At the millennium shift, the water management profession as well as society at large is facing a challenge the magnitude and complexity of which no earlier generation has had to face.Learning how to cope with creeping but predictable water-related problems such as population growth, urbanisation and industrialisation intensifying the pressure on the natural system is a key issue. It will be essential to identify and overcome institutional and other barriers to the replicability of innovative solutions from other regions.The development potential can be seen as enormous, an explosion of possibilities might even be fore seen. Capacity will however have to be developed in how to deal with complexity, taking a fully integrated approach to land use, water resources and key ecological services. Freshwater security will have to be pronounced as a fundamental goal for a developing society.These challenges have to be addressed against the background of the factual current situation. The problem of water pollution continues to escalate, largely without raising any particular sense of urgency. The industrialised countries have done much to reduce pollution loads from municipalities and industry, but agricultural chemicals continue to cause considerable problems and groundwater pollution is already widespread. In developing countries, huge amounts of pollution follow generation of wealth, and pollution loads are growing several times as far as GNP. The uncritical replication of Western models in different one climatic zone, has turned out to be disastrous. In monsoon counties insufficient dilution flow during the dry season has amplified the consequences of a given pollution load. Existing clean-up plans are often not implemented due to multiple barriers: lack of legislation with adequate enforcement, lobbying and unholy linkages, and lack of economical means, appropriate administration and institutions. A signal of warning is that groups of citizens start marching up the river in search of the industry polluting their water source.Food production for the rapidly growing world population is according to UNEP and SCOPE one of the main emerging environmental issues of the early 21st century. The undernutrition climatology indicates that the most undernourished populations are found in the countries subject to the most rapid population growth, many of them located in dry climate regions. They are highly vulnerable to rainfall variability resulting in very low yields on the farmer's field. At present , global food security is seen merely as a problem of global maldistribution. A number of studies, however, suggest that water-related constraints will already in the next few decades turn it into a production problem, threatening the food self-sufficiency potential in dry climate countries.The main question is how to produce more out of less by avoiding any unintended losses due to deficiencies in root uptake capacity, soil deficiencies, leaking irrigation canals or wasteful modes of irrigation. All this is turning into a crucial food security issue. There is also a large difference between what is actually being produced on the farmer's field as compared to what should and could be produced and how production on the farmer's field is being organised.

Source: The Daily Independent, Dhaka, July 28, 2000
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