WATER SHORTAGES are likely to heighten international tension and increase the risk of war over the next 30 years, according to a report published last week by the United Nations Environment Programme.
It also predicts that the global spread of market forces-led economic development is causing rapid climate change and creating more extreme global weather patterns.
Factors such as industrialisation, urbanisation and population growth, plus rising living standards and consumer demand, are putting natural resources under huge strain, depleting and degrading water supplies, forests, agricultural land, and marine ecosystems, says the report.
Acute shortages of potable water and food are already fuelling inter-regional and international hostilities, it continues, warning that unless sustainable development models can be established, these will spill over into war.
Uneven distribution of available resources between rich and poor or different ethnic groups will fuel civil unrest within nations, provoking the rise of authoritarian governments, the report predicts.
Environmental standards are expected to continue falling until 2032, 'raising the spectre of economic uncertainty and conflict. Social stresses threaten socio-economic sustainability as persistent poverty and growing inequality, exacerbated by environmental degradation, undermine social cohesion, spur migration and weaken international security, ' says the report.
'Government efforts to tackle environmental and social problems are generally late in coming and ineffective in scope, ' it says.
The report envisages four development scenarios: unfettered development in line with the market economy, development controlled by strong government legislation, development resulting in huge socioeconomic disparities, and sustainable development where social and economic ambitions are moderated by their environmental impacts.
Under all scenarios, the number of people living in water deprived areas by 2032 will increase dramatically from 2.414bn this year, the report predicts.
In addition to high rates of abstraction from rivers and aquifers, water shortages will be caused by contamination resulting from irrigation and fertiliser use in rural areas, industrial pollution and poor waste management in urban areas.
INFOPLUS www. unep. org