Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 5. June 2011 - 23:43
e-learning centre on sustainable development


Heading: Environment    Topic: Water

A comprehensive assessment of fresh water resources was prepared after the Rio Earth Summit at the request of the Commission on Sustainable Development (SEI, 1997). Freshwater is clearly becoming a major constraint on development. Forty percent of the world's population already face chronic water shortages (World Bank, 1995). One recent estimate suggests that more than half of available freshwater resources are already being used to meet human needs, and this could rise to 70% in thirty years. Water supplies could therefore run out in the next century if per capita consumption and excessive use in agriculture are not controlled (Postel et al., 1996). Another projection shows that between 1 and 2.4 billion people will live in water-scarce countries by 2050 (WRI/UNEP/UNDP/WB, 1996). The conflicts over sharing water in international river basins are increasing.

There are growing concerns about major regional water scarcities. The Maghreb countries and Middle East already have 45 million people without adequate drinking water. Per capita water availability has shrunk by more than half in 30 years, and could be halved again in the next 30 years, requiring an investment of $50 billion (World Bank, 1996). Three-fifths of Chinese cities are short of water and 80 million Chinese do not have adequate drinking water (Benjamin, 1994; Chen, 1995).

Water quality is gradually improving in most parts of Europe as a result of a massive investment programme. However there still a problem with ground water and diffuse sources of pollution, particularly from agriculture (EEA, 1995).


Benjamin, Robert. 1994. "Acid rain drenches Chongging in an ecological disaster." The Baltimore Sun, 3 August 1994.

Chen Yali. 1995. "Dollars and Degradation." China Daily, 22 November 1995.

EEA. 1995. Europe's Environment 1995. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

Postel, Sandra L., Gretchen C. Daily, and Paul R. Ehrlich. 1996. "Human appropriation of renewable fresh-water." Science 271:785-788. 9 February 1996.

SEI. 1997. Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World. UN/UNDP/UNEP/FAO/UNESCO/WMO/WB/WHO/UNIDO. Stockholm Environment Institute/World Meteorological Organization.

World Bank. 1995. Report released 7 August 1995, cited in Harding, James. "World Bank warns of global water crisis". Financial Times, 7 August 1995.

World Bank. 1996. Report on World Water Day 1996.

World Resources Institute/United Nations Environment Programme/United Nations Development Programme/World Bank. 1996. World Resources 1996-97. Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford.

Based partly on materials originally prepared for UN System-wide Earthwatch

Article last updated 1998

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Last updated 8 September 2010