Pacific Institute

Threats to the World’s Freshwater Resources

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Courtesy of Pacific Institute

OAKLAND, CA - Ten to twenty thousand people die every day from water-related diseases; worldwide, half of all wetlands have already been lost to development and conversion. Global climate change will wreak potential havoc on the world's freshwater.

In short, across the globe, the world's scarce fresh water is being threatened as never before. To make matters worse, the traditional methods long-used to ensure our supply of water - dams, reservoirs, and pipelines - are actually adding to our woes. The good news is there are solutions. A new assessment released this week by the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security (Oakland, California) lays out these global threats and offers ways to solve them by breaking with the destructive patterns of the past. The report was funded by the UN Environment Programme.

'The aim of this new assessment is to look ahead at four critical emerging threats to the world's freshwater resources,' stated Dr. Peter H. Gleick, director of the Pacific Institute of Oakland, California and the report's lead author. 'And when we do, the picture is not pretty. Growing populations, increasing water pollution, and the wild-card of climate change all point to an upcoming crisis.'

Freshwater is essential for human survival, for agriculture and for the survival of our planet's plants and animals. But pollution, climate change, water-related disease, and the destruction of natural systems all threaten the purity and availability of our most precious resource. Despite the pressing nature of these threats, water institutions and policymakers have, so far, been largely unable to develop the tools and approaches needed to address these problems.

'Governments have failed to adequately address these problems. The impacts of water-related diseases on the world's children, and the coming risks of climate change are especially threatening. Changing weather patterns may dump too much water into barren areas and leave our massive networks of dams and reservoirs with only drops. We've got to prepare for tomorrow today.'

Despite the challenges we face, there are solutions to the problem. First among these is a realization that sustainable use of freshwater requires a new dialogue on the ultimate ends to be served by water management.

The most crucial solution is a rethinking of how we use and manage our scarce resources,' said Dr. Gleick. 'We must look at ways to increase our efficiency of use, instead of just building more dams and reservoirs. Improving the efficiency of our water systems, taking real steps to stem global warming, and opening the policy debate over water to new voices can all help turn the tide.'

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