Governments and law-makers need to integrate environmental concerns into water-use legislation to avert an impending global water crisis, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), titled 'Greening Water Law'. According to the report, launched Tuesday at World Water Week in Stockholm, competition is increasing between the rapidly growing human population-which needs water for drinking, sanitation, food production and economic development-and species and ecosystems, which rely on water to sustain their existence.
The key challenge now facing governments across the world is how to meet the growing water needs of human society, while maintaining freshwater ecosystems and supporting environmental sustainability.
Nearly 1.8 million children under the age of five die annually from diarrheal diseases (such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery) attributable to a lack of safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The UNEP report warns that if the international community fails to take action to improve freshwater supplies for drinking, sanitation, and hygiene purposes, as many as 135 million preventable deaths could occur by 2020.
The unsustainable use of freshwater is a major contributor to biodiversity loss - and the effects are being felt in rivers, lakes and wetlands across the world. In North America, for example, around 27% of continental freshwater fauna populations are now threatened with extinction as a result of depleted and contaminated freshwater resources. And in Croatia, over a third of all freshwater fish species are currently under threat.
So with more communities than ever before facing both human and environmental water crises, how can changes to the law help to tackle the problem? According to Professor Gabriel Eckstein, lead author of the report, achieving a better balance between human and environmental water needs will require significant changes in legislation and legal tools are needed to achieve this.