U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- More than a billion people still lack access
to clean drinking water. Thousands die every day from water-related
diseases. Without a new approach to solving this crisis, the death
toll could reach as high as 107 million people by 2020, says a new
book by the Pacific Institute.
The "soft path" for water can save lives and money while
protecting the environment by pushing water managers to rethink what
we use water for and how we use it. This new approach can also help
defuse water-related conflicts and reduce the risk that global
warming will play havoc with the world's supply of fresh water.
"Without a change in the way we manage water, up to 107 million
people will die from water-related diseases over the next twenty
years," emphasized Peter H. Gleick, President of the Pacific
Institute, in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for
Scholars. "After decades of work towards reducing the toll from
water-related diseases, there are still far too many people dying
from a lack of clean water."
According to "The World's Water: 2002-2003", a new book by Dr.
Gleick and the Pacific Institute, as many as 5 million people die
every year from preventable, water-related diseases. And certain
threats are growing: The number of cases of dengue fever -- a
mosquito-borne disease -- doubled in Latin America between 1997 and
1999, and millions in Bangladesh and India drink water contaminated
with arsenic. Industrialized nations, including the United States,
also face serious threats to their water supplies from climate
change, growing populations, and over-use.
"More than 20 percent of all freshwater fish species are now
threatened or endangered because dams and water withdrawals have
destroyed free-flowing rivers," the book says. "The Colorado River,
diverted in more than 80 places, rarely reaches the sea and many
species that live in the river's delta are threatened with
"But there is a path that can provide reliable, safe water to the
developing world while helping nations with sophisticated water
systems meet the challenge of global warming: that path is the "soft
path" for water, according to Gleick. "The soft path strives to
improve the overall productivity of water rather than seek endless
sources of new supply. By using cost-effective technology we can
reduce wasteful use, better match water supply to demand, and
eliminate the need for expensive and environmentally damaging new
dams and reservoirs."
The "soft path" for water provides for the needs of people and the
natural world by asking policy makers to rethink how, and what, we
use water for. Should water-hungry crops be grown in arid regions?
Can recycled water be used to irrigate landscaping? Can new supply be
created through conservation and efficiency?
The central insight of the soft path is that people don't so much
want to "use" water as to accomplish certain tasks -- they want to
drink and bathe, produce goods and services, grow food and otherwise
meet human needs.
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