Water shortage 'to hinder world's economic growth'
Seven of the world's 10
most populated regions face such severe water shortages over the next three
decades that they threaten to derail the growth which hundreds of millions of
people in the developing world are banking on to lift them out of poverty.
The value of goods and services produced in these regions – which include large
parts of India, Bangladesh and North-eastern Africa and are all in the
developing world – is forecast to increase more than sevenfold to $15.6
trillion (£10.1 trillion) by 2050. This would increase their share of the
growing global economy from 3 per cent now to 12 per cent, and bring prosperity
to hundreds of millions of people.
However, water use in these regions is growing so fast that unless action is
taken to safeguard its supply they will "face unsustainable water
consumption, with significant water scarcity," warns a report by Frontier
Failure to improve the efficiency with which the water is collected and used,
for example by improving pipelines and other infrastructure, could mean that
the economic growth expected in these regions "would not
materialise," the report adds.
The report has divided and analysed the world in terms of its 'river
basins' – areas of land, sometimes vast, drained by a river and its
tributaries – the most populated of which is the Ganges, which straddles parts
of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh.
"This is an extremely
serious issue for economies around the world. Improving the way we manage and allocate
water is among the great challenges facing the world in the 21st century," said head of freshwater at WWF-UK David Tickner
The situation is so serious that Douglas Flint, chairman of the HSBC banking
giant, yesterday called for politicians, businesses and individuals around the
world to join forces to tackle the problem. "Today's findings show that
the future of river basins is critical for global economic growth. Rapid,
collaborative action is needed to improve water resource management in river
basins," said Flint as he launched a $100m partnership with the
environmental groups WWF, WaterAid and Earthwatch.
To make matters worse, far from delivering an increasing investment to improve
provision, "total aid for water access and sanitation has actually
declined," Flint added.
Consumption becomes unsustainable when the volume of water extracted from
ground and surface water flows exceeds 30 per cent of natural run-off, and the
situation is regarded as 'severe' if it exceeds 40 per cent, as seven
river basins are forecast to do by 2050. Furthermore, three of the river basins
– the Indus, which takes in parts of India, China and Pakistan, the Hai basin
in China and the Krishna in India – are on course to breach the 100 per cent
mark over the next 30 years.
The report also calculates that providing universal access to safe water and
sanitation in Brazil, India and China would result in an 'economic
gain' of $113bn a year, increasing to $220bn a year if such a policy was
Although the upfront capital investment costs would be huge – estimated at more
than $725bn by Frontier Economics – the infrastructure would last for about 35
years, giving a return of $5 for each $1 invested, including maintenance costs,
Frontier Economics forecasts.
The only basin of the world's top 10 which is not in the developing world is
the Danube, which straddles 10 countries in central and eastern Europe,
including Germany, Austria, Ukraine and Romania.