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Riot police quell protest as World Water Forum opens
The forum, held only every three years, will address growing water scarcity, the risk of conflict as countries squabble over rivers, lakes and aquifers, and how to provide clean water and sanitation to billions.
Anti-riot police dispersed some 300 demonstrators against the forum as they headed to the venue buildings, detaining at least 15. The protesters, whose rally had been called by unions, environmentalists, and leftist organisations, responded to tear gas by hurling rocks and beating officers with sticks.
They chanted slogans such as "water is people, it's life, it's not for sale," and "we want to crush this forum which wants to take our water". Heading an appeal for the globe to husband its water resources, Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council staging the conference, said humanity was squarely to blame for wasting the precious stuff of life.
"We are responsible," he said. "Responsible for the aggressions perpetrated against water, responsible for the current climate changes which come on top of the global changes, responsible for the tensions which reduce the availability of freshwater masses so indispensable to the survival of humanity."
He added: "At this very time in the history of water, we are faced with a major challenge to use more water resources but at the same time to protect, enhance the value of and even reuse these waters."
The world's population, currently more than 6.5 billion, is expected to rise to nine billion by mid-century, placing further massive demands on water supplies that are already under strain.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts a rise in the number of people living under severe water stress to 3.9 billion by 2030, amounting to nearly half the world's population. Most of these will live in China and South Asia.
That tally does not include the impacts of climate change. Global warming may already be affecting weather patterns, changing the time and place where rain and snow fall, say some experts. Around 2.5 billion people today do not have access to decent sanitation, defying one of the targets of the UN's Millennium Development Goals.
Hydrologists say the crisis is rooted in excessive irrigation, leakage of urban water supplies, pollution of river water and unbridled extraction of water from nearly every type of source.
The need for better management of water "is becoming more urgent," the head of the OECD, Angel Gurria, warned in a report to be issued on Tuesday.
"We witness increasing pressure, competition and, in some regions, even conflict over the use of water resources. Poor governance and inadequate investment are resulting in billions of people not having access to water and sanitation services." Tens of billions of dollars are needed annually to fix the world's water systems, but policies to address the global financial crisis could help meet the target, the report says.
Gurria admitted in an interview that the world's economic crisis cast a shadow over the ability to muster such huge sums, including in development aid. But, he said, hope lies in the plans set by the United States, China, European countries and others to spend massively in infrastructure to steer their economies out of the path of recession.
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