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Millennium Development Goals Part VII - Drinking Water and Sanitation07 September 2011
There is no easy solution to the world’s increasing consumption of the dwindling supply of water available for drinking and agriculture. We just know that in the future, people will need to treat each drop as precious. This article will look at the third target of the seventh Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on environmental sustainability - “To halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.”
Major Heath Impacts
There have been gains - according to the United Nations development Program, an extra 1.6 billion people have gained access to safe drinking (or 'potable') water since 1990 - but much still remains to be done. The World Health Organization estimates that safe drinking water could prevent 1.4 million child deaths from diarrhea each year.
Food & Water
As populations and their food needs grow, and underground
When coupled with increasingly frequent and severe droughts due to global climate change, many regions are expected to experience severe water stress. The massive refugee camps in northern Kenya are populated by people from neighbouring Somalia, South Sudan, Djibouti and southern Ethiopia fleeing the crushing drought which has resulted in failed crops and inadequate food in north-east Africa for the past two years. Armed conflict in Somalia and South Sudan have added to the crisis.
Water Across Borders
China is also undertaking one of the world's largest water engineering schemes with its 'south to north' water diversion scheme, where water from the dams in its wetter
Re-cycle, De-salt or Off-shore
Desalination is also being tried in many countries - over 14,000 desalination plants exist worldwide - but they are very energy-intensive.
If carbon-based fuels are used for power, desalination could add greatly to global warming - potentially contributing to a further increase in water stress in some regions. Even where renewable energy is used in the desalination process, it is a very expensive way of producing water for consumption or agriculture.
Another attempt to mitigate the impact of dwindling water supplies on agriculture productivity is for 'water-stressed' wealthy countries to buy agricultural land in countries with adequate rainfall and to grow food which is then sent directly home for domestic consumption. China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea are already doing this in parts of Africa.
While this may solve some of the water and food production problems for the wealthier nations, it will only compound the problem of food insecurity in those African nations.
This is the seventh in a series of articles in our quarterly newsletter looking at the Millennium Development Goals - the eight point plan by all the world's nations
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