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Asia Must Unite on Water Plight: Expert

May 3, 2009

By Joanna McCarthy
Radio Australia
May 1, 2009

A Central Asia summit meeting this week on how to
share dwindling water resources broke down in bitter disagreement.

The United Nations says that by 2050, three out
of four people in the world could be affected by water scarcity.

But the region's five leaders, meeting in
Kazakhstan, could not find common ground on the
contentious issue in one of the world's driest regions.

The Asia Society's Leadership Group on Water
Security is warning that Asia could see many more
of these disputes in coming years.

The society's social issues director, Suzanne
DiMaggio, told Radio Australia the falling-out
among the leaders is a "harbinger of what is to
come - growing disagreement over how to share water resources".

Greater stress

"When you factor in the growing populations in
these countries, combined with growing
urbanisation rates and then the impact of climate
change, what we are seeing is a perfect storm of
factors that are putting greater stress on water," she said.

Ms DiMaggio says there are "simmering tensions at
many levels" over water scarcity.

Local tensions, with mass movements and protests
at the community level have taken place in China.

Regional tension in Tibet, with plentiful
supplies, has been the scene of ethnic tensions
as water is diverted to Han Chinese.

Nations including India and Pakistan have also
engaged in trans-boundary disputes over the issue.

Talk required

The Asia Society official says that traditional
tools of defence "are clearly not going to solve these matters".

Ms DiMaggio says the international community
should link climate change to water issues, since
the first has an obvious impact on water quantity and quality.

She says the upcoming UN summit to seek a
post-Kyoto agreement should also focus on how to deal with the water issue.

"We have to find a way to get low-tech [methods]
to these communities," she said.

She says new technologies, like desalination, are
part of the solution however they are out of reach to poorer Asian nations.
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