- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2000

With simple conservation efforts, we will be swimming in water[p]

Your March 20 article on the world's water ("Rising population faces shrinking water supply," World) quotes the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century as concluding, "The arithmetic of water does not add up." Unfortunately, the report itself misses aspects of the three R's for water: reduce, reuse and recycle.

To put a finer point on the situation, many of the world's water woes are self-induced by waste and pollution. The extra water required to ensure a minimum basic domestic supply to all the world's people in 2025 is only 1 percent of current water use. This extra amount easily could be obtained through conservation. Sandra Postel estimates in her book "The Last Oasis," that farmers could cut water needs by 10 percent to 50 percent, industries by 40 percent to 90 percent and cities by 33 percent with no sacrifice of economic output or quality of life. Water delivery still would be required but could be financed with the extra funds saved by avoiding unnecessary and costly large dams.

Since 1980, we have heard grand declarations from the World Bank, United Nations and others about the goal of providing water to all. Yet investments speak louder than declarations. Of the approximately $35 billion (in 1993 dollars) that the World Bank invested in water programs from 1981 through 1990 the United Nation's International Decade on Drinking Water and Sanitation less than 5 percent was invested in rural drinking-water projects and about 2.3 percent for water conservation. Compare the more than $10 billion spent on the corruption-riddled Three Gorges Dam project in China with the few thousand dollars spent for community water and sanitation systems. UNICEF has estimated that 80 percent of the 1.2 billion people without water could be given essential water services for only 30 percent of the cost by shifting from high-cost to low-cost technologies.

Now is the time to redirect efforts and investments both public and private toward meeting basic needs in cost-effective and sustainable ways.


Senior scientist

Environmental Defense

Oakland, Calif.

The writer is co-director of the International Program at Environmental Defense, an advocacy organization.

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