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Jul 252008

By Shermakaye Bass

Photo: © Holger Gurski |

The well was dry beside the door,
And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
To seek the brook, if still it ran; . . .

- Robert Frost’s “Going for Water”

Every year, more about the world’s worsening water crisis is revealed: Who has potable water, sanitation and fresh drinking water – and who doesn’t.

The statistics are foreboding: The United Nations, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Global Water Trust, World Water Council, the Pacific Institute and other international organizations warn us that by 2025, two-thirds of the Earth’s population will live in water-strapped countries. By mid-century, they say, two out of three people around the globe may not have potable water, and by the end of this century, the number of people without access to fresh drinking water – just under a billion today – could double.

Water, water, they tell us, is not everywhere.

Water that humans can use, that is. The world’s population uses about 1 percent of all the water on Earth, according to U.S. Geological Survey charts. The remaining 99 percent of the planet’s water is salty or brackish, or it is trapped in glaciers and ice.

But if scientists have the technology to desalinate water, or to super clean storm-drainage water or contaminated groundwater, isn’t that reason for optimism? And if, according to these same global entities, the number of people who have fresh drinking water has actually increased in the past couple of years, isn’t that good news?

Yes, says Pasquale Steduto. He is an expert in water-use efficiency and productivity, and has spent the past 20 years working in agriculture-water related issues. Because of his skills, Steduto is the chief of Water Service for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. The Rome-based water scientist spoke at length to last week, offering a big-picture perspective on the state of the world’s water.

Careful not to paint too rosy a scenario, Steduto (pictured) expresses optimism: there is more access to fresh drinking water, and more cities and countries use new guidelines on water-system efficiency. Plus, more countries are acknowledging that all humans have a basic right to clean water (such as South Africa in a recent, unprecedented high court ruling).

Multinational corporations are at least attempting, Steduto says, to look at the water crisis from a humanitarian standpoint – such as in last year’s CEO Water Mandate.

The world’s perception of water – how we use it, how we take it for granted – is changing rapidly, experts say. Whether it is due to necessity or market forces, governments and individuals are changing how they use water and decide their water needs.

“There is a shift in a way, in lifestyle choices and behaviors, ” Steduto says. “The shift of the paradigm is, ‘O.K., we cannot really go too much toward increasing the supply. Are we in a position to reduce the demand, or no?’

  One Response to “The World’s Water Needs: A Global Perspective”

  1. [...] this one just came up over at Green Right Now entitled “The World’s Water Needs: A Global Perspective” by Shermakaye Bass. I found it a good primer to start this topic out [...]