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Hopkins Report: Water Crisis Looms

**EMBARGOED, FOR RELEASE 2pm (EST), Wednesday, August 26, 1998**  

Contact: Stephen Goldstein at Johns Hopkins Center for Communication
Programs, 111 Market Place, Suite 310, Baltimore, Maryland 21202, USA. 
Tel: 410 659-6300; Fax: 410 659-6266; e-mail:

Hopkins Report: Water Crisis Looms as World Population Grows

Nearly half a billion people around the world face water shortages
today. By 2025 the number will explode fivefold to 2.8 billion
people--35% of the world's projected total of 8 billion
people--according to a new report from The Johns Hopkins University
School of Public Health. 

"To avoid catastrophe...it is important to act now" to reduce demand for
water by slowing  population growth, according to the Population Reports
issue, Solutions for a Water-Short World, published by the Johns Hopkins
Population Information Program.  At the same time, warns the  Hopkins
report, countries must conserve water, pollute less, and manage supply
and demand better.  


By 2025, according to the report, one in every three people will live in
countries short of water. Today, thirty-one countries are facing water
stress or water scarcity.  By 2025 population pressure will push another
17 countries, including India, onto the list. China, with a projected
2025 population of 1.5 billion, will not be far behind. A country faces
water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic meters
per person. Water-scarce countries have annual water supplies of less
than 1,000 cubic meters per person.     

Much of the world is caught trying to meet a growing demand for
freshwater with finite and increasingly polluted water supplies,
according to Population Reports.   But the situation is worst in
developing countries, where some 95% of the 80 million people added to
the globe each year are born, and where the competition between
industrial, urban, and agricultural use for water is mounting.

"Freshwater is the liquid that lubricates development," says Don
Hinrichsen, lead author of the report and a Consultant with the United
Nations Population Fund.  "In many developing countries lack of water
could cap future improvements in the quality of life.  Populations are
growing rapidly in many of these countries, and at the same time per
capita use must increase--to grow enough food, for better personal
health and hygiene, and to supply growing cities and industries.

"Meanwhile, there is no more freshwater on earth than there was 2,000
years ago, when population was 3% of its current size, " says

Even in the United States, where there is plenty of water on a national
basis, in some areas "people are depleting groundwater reserves at a 25%
greater rate than nature can replenish," adds Hinrichsen.

Regional conflicts over water are brewing and could turn violent as
shortages grow, warns the Hopkins report. In Africa, Central Asia, the
Near East, and South America, some countries are already bickering over
access to rivers and inland seas.  Even within a country competition for
use can be fierce. The water in China's Yellow river, for example, is
under so much demand that the river has dried up before reaching the
ocean. In 1996, when there was enough water, the government ordered
farmers not to use it; a state-run oil field further downstream needed
the water to operate.   

                        Overuse and Pollution

In 1996, people used an estimated 54% of all accessible freshwater.  The
next 30 years of population growth will raise the number to 70%--and by
much more if per capita water use continues to rise at its current pace,
write Hinrichsen and co-authors Bryant Robey and Ushma D. Upadhyay.  As
people use more water, less is left for vital ecosystems on which humans
and other species depend.  Globally, over 20% of all freshwater fish
species are  endangered or vulnerable, or recently have become extinct.
In Egypt diverting water from the Nile has virtually wiped out some 30
of 47 commercial species of fish. Africa's Lake Chad has shrunk from
25,000 square kilometers to just 2,000 over the past 30 years through
overuse and drought. In Europe the Rhine River is so polluted that 8 of
its 44 fish species have disappeared and another 25 are rare or
endangered.  In Colombia, South America, annual fish production in the
Madalena River has plunged from 72,000 metric tons to 23,000 metric tons
in 15 years; a similar drop occurred in Southeast Asia's Mekong River. 
The US state of California has lost over 90% of its wetlands, resulting
in two-thirds of the state's native fish becoming extinct or in decline. 

Even in the face of impending shortages, water pollution continues to
spoil this essential resource.  Agriculture is the biggest polluter,
even more than industries and municipalities, according to Hopkins
researchers.  "In virtually every country where agricultural fertilizers
and pesticides are used, they have contaminated groundwater aquifers and
surface waters," they write. Europe and North America confront enormous
pollution problems.  Over 90% of Europe's rivers have high nitrate
concentrations, mostly from agrochemicals.  In developing countries, on
average, 90% to 95% of all domestic sewage and 75% of all industrial
waste are discharged into surface waters without any treatment.  All of
India's 14 major rivers are badly polluted and over three-quarters of
China's 50,000 kilometers of major rivers are unable to support fish.

Polluted water causes major public health problems worldwide, killing
millions of people each year and preventing millions more from leading
healthy lives.  About 2.3 billion people in the world suffer from
diseases that are linked to water, such as dysentery,  cholera, typhoid,
and schistosomiasis.

The authors call for a "Blue Revolution" to conserve and manage
freshwater supplies but concede that "it may already be too late for
some water-short countries with rapid population growth to avoid a
crisis." They argue that a blue revolution will require politically
difficult coordinated responses to the problem at the local, national,
and international levels.  They conclude development agencies need to
focus more on assuring the supply and management of freshwater resources
and on providing sanitation as part of development and public health