Published 16 years after the Rio Summit of 1992, Vital Water Graphics focuses on the critical issues vital to the quality of life on earth - water quantity, quality and availability. The assessment of global water resources and the provision of early warnings on water issues are enshrined in the mandate, vision and mission of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations’ agencies, and collaborating centres and partners monitoring and analyzing water resources on a global scale. These partnerships enable a wider involvement in assessing the status of the implementation of Chapters 17 and 18 of Agenda 21, which address coastal and marine waters and freshwater respectively.
Highlights from assessment activities over the past two decades, used to establish present and future water trends, reveal that:
1. Freshwater resources are unevenly distributed, with much of the water located far from human populations. Many of the world’s largest river basins run through thinly populated regions. There are an estimated 263 international rivers, covering 45.3% of the land-surface of the earth (excluding Antarctica).
2. Groundwater represents about 90% of the world’s readily available freshwater resources, and some 1.5 billion people depend upon groundwater for their drinking water.
3. Agricultural water use accounts for about 75% of total global consumption - mainly through crop irrigation - while industrial use accounts for about 20%, and the remaining 5% is used for domestic purposes.
4. It is estimated that two out of every three people will live in water-stressed areas by the year 2025. In Africa alone, it is estimated that 25 countries will be experiencing water stress (below 1,700 m3 per capita per year) by 2025. Today, 450 million people in 29 countries suffer from water shortages.
5. Clean water supplies and sanitation remain major problems in many parts of the world, with 20% of the global population lacking access to safe drinking water. Around 1.1 billion people globally do not have access to improved water supply sources, while 2.4 billion people do not have access to any type of improved sanitation facility. About 2 million people die every year due to water-borne diseases from faecal pollution of surface waters; most of them are children less than five years of age. A wide variety of human activities also affect the coastal and marine environment. Population pressures, increasing demand for space and resources, and poor economic performance can all undermine the sustainable use of our oceans and coastal areas.
Serious problems affecting the quality and use of these ecosystems include the alteration and destruction of habitats and ecosystems. For example:
- Estimates show that almost 50% of the world’s coasts are threatened by development-related activities. Severe eutrophication has been discovered in several enclosed or semi-enclosed seas. It is estimated that about 80% of marine pollution originates from land-based sources and activities.
- In marine fisheries, most areas are producing significantly lower yields than in the past. Substantial increases are never again likely to be recorded for global fish catches. In contrast, inland and marine aquaculture production is increasing and now contributes 30% of the total global fish yield.
- The impact of climate change is projected to include a significant rise in the level of the world’s oceans. This will cause some low lying coastal areas to become completely submerged, and increase human vulnerability in other areas. Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are highly dependent upon marine resources, are especially vulnerable, due to both the effects of sea level rise and to changes in marine ecosystems.
UNEP is involved in promoting integrated resource management using management approaches such as Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) through a broad variety of initiatives, as a way of resolving current and future problems at a local/ecosystem-based level. Through its different assessment activities, UNEP focuses on highlighting key areas to promote policy recommendations.