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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 8, 2001

ADB meeting
Experts anticipate worldwide water crisis

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Advertiser special: ADB in Hawai'i — global issues, local impact

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

A panel of international experts yesterday warned that a water crisis will occur by 2025 unless world leaders adopt significant changes in water policy.

"Billions of people still lack the most fundamentally basic water services," said Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security of Oakland, Calif. "Millions of people die annually from preventable water-related diseases."

Gleick said the statistics show a failure of development, especially in relation to deaths from such preventable diseases as cholera and dysentery. He said between 14,000 and 30,000 people die each day from such illnesses.

Gleick took part in one of more than 20 seminar sessions scheduled this week as part of the Asian Development Bank meeting at the Hawai'i Convention Center. The bank invited experts from many fields to grapple with issues facing nations from the Asia-Pacific region.

The panel also included Ainun Nishat, World Conservation Union representative for Bangladesh; Peter Rogers, professor of environmental engineering at Harvard University; and Erna Witoelar, minister of settlements and regional infrastructure for Indonesia.

Nishat said there is hope that an agreement can be reached on how to effectively harness and use the water resources of rivers as well as to build storage reservoirs to make use of heavy monsoon rains.

"Water entering into Bangladesh annually is enough to submerge the country with more than 9 meters (29.7 feet) of water," Nishat said.

Rogers and the other panelists agreed that a crisis can be avoided, with the help of integrated water resource management.

The discussion began with sobering water facts:

• Less than 1 percent of the world's water is fresh water and 98 percent is salt water.

• Demand for fresh water increased at twice the rate of population growth between 1900 and 1995.

• One in five people do not have access to safe drinking water, and half the world's population lacks adequate sanitation.

• Asia has the lowest per-capita availability of fresh water resources.

Witoelar said that Indonesia has made progress in dealing with problems of over-consumption, pollution and the alternating threats of flood and drought, but continued efforts are needed.