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                Water crisis looms as world's population grows
                                       
      Copyright  1998 Nando.net
      Copyright  1998 The Associated Press
      
   WASHINGTON (August 26, 1998 4:07 p.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com)
   -- Nearly half a billion people around the world face shortages of
   fresh water, and that number is expected to swell to 2.8 billion
   people by 2025 as the world population grows, according to a report
   released Wednesday.
   
   "To avoid catastrophe ... it is important to act now" to reduce demand
   for fresh water by slowing population growth, conserving water,
   polluting less and managing supply and demand of water better, said
   the report from The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.
   
   By 2025, one in every three of the world's projected 8 billion people
   will live in countries short of fresh water, the report said.
   
   Today, 31 countries, mostly in Africa and the Near East, 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, said
   the report.
   
   A country faces water stress when annual fresh water supplies drop
   below 1,700 cubic meters per person. Water-scarce countries have
   annual fresh water supplies of less than 1,000 cubic meters per
   person.
   
   Although much of the world is trying to meet a growing demand for
   fresh water, the situation is worst in developing countries where some
   95 percent of the 80 million people added to the globe each year are
   born. In addition, the competition among industrial, urban and
   agricultural uses for water is mounting there, the report said.
   
   "In many developing countries, lack of water could cap future
   improvements in the quality of life," said Don Hinrichsen, the
   report's lead author and a consultant with the U.N. Population Fund.
   
   "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," Hinrichsen added.
   
   Yet there is no more fresh water on Earth now than there was 2,000
   years ago, when the population was less than 3 percent of its current
   size, he noted.
   
   Even in the United States, which has plenty of fresh water on a
   national basis, groundwater is being used at a rate 25 percent greater
   than its replenishment rate, said the report.
   
   The report warned that regional conflicts over water could turn
   violent as shortages grow.
   
   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 can be fierce. For example, the
   water in China's Yellow River 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 it to operate.
   
   The report said most countries need massive investments in sanitation
   and water supply infrastructure.
   
   The United Kingdom, for example, must spend close to $60 billion
   building wastewater treatment plants over the next decade to meet new
   European water quality standards. Hungary will need to spend about
   $3.5 billion in the next two decades to connect all residences to
   wastewater treatment plants.
   
   The report also warned that as people use more water, less is left for
   vital ecosystems on which humans and other species depend. Globally,
   over 20 percent of all freshwater fish species are endangered,
   vulnerable or have recently become extinct.
   
   According to the report:
   
   ----California has lost over 90 percent of its wetlands during the
   past two centuries, causing two-thirds of the state's native fish to
   become extinct or be in decline.
   
   ----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 10,000 square miles to just 800
   over the past 30 years through overuse and drought.
   
   ----Europe's Rhine River is so polluted that eight of its 44 fish
   species have disappeared and 25 others are rare or endangered.
   
   ----In Colombia, annual fish production in the Magdalena 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.
   
   By DONNA ABU-NASR, Associated Press Writer