STOCKHOLM, Sweden, (ENS) - The world's supplies of clean, fresh water cannot sustain today's "profligate" use and inadequate management, which have brought shrinking food supplies and rising food costs to most countries, WWF Director General James Leape told the opening session of World Water Week in Stockholm today.
"Behind the world food crisis is a global freshwater crisis, expected to rapidly worsen as climate change impacts intensify," Leape said. "Irrigation-fed agriculture provides 45 percent of the world's food supplies, and without it, we could not feed our planet's population of six billion people."
Leape warns that many of the world's irrigation areas are highly stressed and drawing more water than rivers and groundwater reserves can sustain, especially in view of climate change. At the same time, he said, freshwater food reserves are declining in the face of the quickening pace of dam construction and unsustainable water extractions from rivers.
At a time when billions of people live without access to safe drinking water or suffer ill health due to poor sanitation, when food producers battle biofuel producers for land and water resources, and when global climate change is altering the overall water balance, 2,500 water experts are gathered this week at the Stockholm International Fairs and Congress Center to craft solutions to these problems.
World Water Week is an annual event co-ordinated by the Stockholm International Water Institute. This year's conference has the overall theme of "Progress and Prospects on Water: For A Clean and Healthy World with Special Focus on Sanitation" in keeping with the UN declaration of 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation.
Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands had good news for the delegates in his opening speech today.
The Prince of Orange, who chairs the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation during this special year, announced, "The number of people living without a supply of improved drinking water has now dropped well below one billion!"
"More than half the global population now have water piped to their homes and the number of people using unimproved water supplies continues to decline," he said, praising the delegates for this accomplishment.
This year, the prince said, progress towards adequate sanitation has begun on international, regional, national and local levels...
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