William J Cosgrove
President Ecoconsult Inc. Montreal, Canada. Vice-President World Water Council, Marseilles, France
The states of the world water resources and their management are well known to participants in this congress of the International Water Resources Association. There really no need for me to do more than briefly remind you that well over a billion people, perhaps even closer to two billion, lack reliable access to safe water supplies. Close to half the world population is without adequate sanitation. Hundreds of millions live in areas that suffer from water stress calculated as an average yearly condition, - billions if we count those who alternately suffer from droughts and floods in the same year. Fresh surface waters and aquifers, wetlands and oceans continue to serve as sinks accumulating the wastes of human activities. Those who wish to know more details can readily find them in the first report of the World Water Assessment Program.
A comprehensive report for the informed layman has recently been published in The Economist3 . At one point the authors sum up the situations as follows: "In truth, the story of water almost everywhere involves abuse, waste and even tragedy. Nor are things getting better; indeed, much of the worst damage has been wrought in the past 100 years. Water resources have been exploited with no heed either to sustainability or to the environmental consequences."
Of course this statement oversimplifies history, as during those hundred years the human population of the planet tripled, and water consumption for agriculture and other economic activities doubled while raising living standards for hundreds of millions. But fundamentally, the facts show that the heart of the message is true, and alarming...