U.S. Water News Online
DAVOS, Switzerland -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon urged the world recently to put the looming crisis
over water shortages at the top of the global agenda this
year and take action to prevent conflicts over scarce
He reminded business and political leaders at the World
Economic Forum that the conflict in the Darfur region of
Sudan was touched off by drought -- and he said shortages of
water contribute to poverty and social hardship in Somalia,
Chad, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Nigeria, Sri
Lanka, Haiti, Colombia and Kazakhstan.
"Too often, where we need water we find guns instead,"
Ban said. "Population growth will make the problem worse. So
will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will
its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon."
He said a recent report identified 46 countries with 2.7
billion people where climate change and water-related crises
create "a high risk of violent conflict" and a further 56
countries, with 1.2 billion people "are at high risk of
violent conflict." The report was by International Alert, an
independent peacebuilding organization based in London.
Ban told the VIP audience that he spent 2007 "banging my
drum on climate change," an issue the Forum also had as one
of its main themes last year. He welcomed the focus on water
this year saying the session should be named: "Water is
"We need to adapt to this reality, just as we do to
climate change," he said. "There is still enough water for
all of us -- but only so long as we can keep it clean, use
it more wisely, and share it fairly."
Ban said he will invite world leaders to "a critical
high-level meeting" in September to focus on meeting U.N.
development goals -- including cutting by half the number of
people without access to safe drinking water by 2015 --
particularly in Africa.
"We must mobilize world opinion and focus political
will," he said. "What we did for climate change last year,
we want to do for water and development in 2008."
Ban's call for global action on water got strong support
from several top business executives.
"Water is today's issue," said Andrew Liveris, chairman
and CEO of Dow Chemical Co., the world's second largest
chemical company. "It is the oil of this century, not a
"The technology is there. We need the innovation to get
the business model and the delivery systems to the table,
and we're very committed to doing that," he said.
Liveris said there is a lot of water on the planet and
"all of us" should be trying to meet the challenge of
affordable desalination of sea water and accessing
groundwater above and below bedrock.
E. Neville Isdell, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Co.,
said "this is an issue which ranks next to climate change.
... However, water has got lost as part of the climate
"The solutions are there," he said. "The awareness
globally and the commitment globally is not there yet."
Isdell urged the world to "raise the issue of water to
the level that we have managed to raise the issue of climate
He also issued "a clarion cry for engagement," especially
with the agricultural sector which uses 70 percent of water
resources, compared with 23 percent by industry and 7
percent by "humanity in general."
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman and CEO of Nestle SA,
the world's biggest food and drink company, said "time is
still on our side but time is running out, just like water
is running out."
He said the demand for biofuels is misguided because
9,000 liters of water are needed to produce one liter of
"This can only work because water has no price," Brabeck
said. "If we are going to use 1,950 cubic kilometers of
water for biofuels when at the same time our ... water
reservoirs are already depleted now, you can see that this
strategy that we have today -- and which is backed by all
major governments -- is not the right strategy."
"If you would allow market forces to define how to define
the value of the water, we could make a big step forward,"
Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, a U.S.
environmental group, agreed that ethanol was not only using
massive amounts of water but was diverting food crops for
fuel, leading to higher food prices.
"We need a market price ... for industrial users and
massive (water) consumers," he said. "That will get
tremendous efficiency and be a key to solving this problem."
There also has to be a cap on the amount of water
withdrawn from rivers and a solution to the global warming
problem "because climate is going to be a great accelerator
of water shortages," Krupp said.
Ban urged top business executives to join a U.N. project
to help poor people gain access to clean water -- and he
praised Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and Nestle for their
programs and their efforts to be part of the water solution.
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