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Water security is fundamental to our life

By Julie Bishop - posted Wednesday, 31 March 2010

World Water Day was observed on March 22 and the theme this year was clean water and health.

According to the United Nations, more than 1 billion people obtain their daily water needs from unsafe sources. The World Health Organisation reports that almost 90 per cent of intestinal diseases are caused by drinking unsafe water, while parasites and various forms of pollution are also water-borne problems.

This can also have national security implications.


Access to water for drinking, sanitation and irrigation are cited as major challenges confronting the new government of Afghanistan and some believe that the long term economic and political sustainability of Afghanistan rests on this issue.

Nations in our region which struggle to provide their citizens with clean, fresh water include Papua New Guinea, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and East Timor.

Water is fundamental to life.

While water is abundant, the vast majority (96 per cent) is in our salty oceans and seas. The bulk of fresh water (69 per cent) is stored in glaciers and polar icecaps, with 30 per cent stored in underground aquifers. That leaves a relatively small amount in lakes, rivers and swamps.

According to the United States Geological Survey, only 0.0067 per cent of the world’s water is in rivers. Yet that is the main source of water for the majority of people. This is also the key source of water for agriculture, which underpins world food supplies.

In that light, access to fresh water can be seen as an issue of international security, and is increasingly an issue of international concern.


There are forecasts which indicate that population growth and climate change will result in up to 2.5 billion people suffering severe water stress within the next 15-20 years.

This will challenge political stability in nations where water shortages will be most acute.

The prospect of drought is often imminent. Parts of Southern China are currently in the grip of a record dry spell. Official Chinese news sources report that more than 50 million people are being adversely affected by the drought and that 16 million people are struggling to access drinking water. Crop failures are expected in areas exceeding 1 million hectares.

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First published in the National Times on March 24, 2010.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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