Editor's Note: The following is a message from the Secretary-General o f WMO on the World Day for Water '97 (March 22), excerpted from the What's new? section of the WMO homepage.



Message from Professor Godwin O.P. Obasi, Secretary-General of WMO

This year's celebration of the World Day for Water is being undertaken under the theme "Water Resources Assessment", and with the slogan: "The world's water - is there enough?". This occasion will allow decision-makers, the media and the general public to focus on an issue of global significance, and on the contributions that their national Hydrological Services and WMO, a lead-agency in water resources assessment, make to the national economy and to the well-being of the peoples of the world.

The celebration comes at a time when the global awareness of the vital role that water plays in sustainable national development is increasing. Much has been said about our shrinking supply of freshwater which is a basic requirement for all life. In reality, the world's potential supply of freshwater has not decreased, but the pollution to which it is being subjected and the demands which are placed on this supply, have indeed increased, complicated by irregular rainfall patterns. Water pollution is responsible for the death of some 25 million people each year, especially in developing countries. Half of the world's diseases are transmitted by or through water. It is estimated that 20 per cent of the world's population lacks safe drinking water and 50 per cent lacks access to adequate sanitation.

Between 1900 and 1995, water use has increased by a factor of six, which is more than double the rate of population growth during the same period. The world population is projected to increase from the current 5.7 billion to 8.3 billion in 2025 and to about 10 billion in 2050. The result is already evident in the competition for water for agricultural, domestic and industrial purposes. Some estimates suggest that, at the turn of the century, the amount of water available to each person in Africa will be one-quarter of that in 1950 and in Asia and South America, it will be about one-third of the 1950 figure. This situation is aggravated by the occurrence of floods and droughts. To compound the issue, the longer-term threat of global warming is expected to impact significantly on regional water resources, with increases in floods in some areas and droughts in others.During the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT II), which was held in Istanbul in June 1996, WMO emphasized the vital need for information on the availability, quality and management of freshwater resources for cities, where almost half of the world's population will live as we enter the new millennium. Furthermore, at the World Food Summit, which took place in November 1996 in Rome, WMO stressed the need to approach the issue of food security in many parts of the world from the standpoint of weather, climate and water, in order to fulfil global commitments made at the highest political level, that is, to eradicate hunger and malnutrition and to achieve lasting food security for all.

It is being increasingly recognized that sustainable solutions for water-related problems can only be found if we have a comprehensive understanding of the water resources available in the world. As a result, a Comprehensive Assessment of Freshwater Resources of the world was recently undertaken by WMO and partner agencies. The study confirmed that there is insufficient knowledge of exactly how much water is available. This situation poses difficulties for effective national, regional and global water resources management. In fact, from a global perspective, there is a particularly serious concern about the ability of the national water agencies to meet the growing needs for water information. The study will be considered by the Special Session of the UN General Assembly in June 1997, in the context of the review of the implementation of Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

For its part, WMO has reviewed many water-related issues of concern to its Member countries and has made concrete proposals and taken a number of actions to address them. For example, at the global level, WMO initiated the World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS) which is being implemented with the assistance of the World Bank, to contribute to the improvement of national and regional water resources assessment capabilities. WHYCOS is being implemented in various parts of the world through the involvement of the countries concerned. At the regional level, WMO convened water assessment conferences for Africa (Addis Ababa, 1995) and for Latin America and the Caribbean (San José, 1996) with another being planned for Asia later this year or early 1998. It is being increasingly realized that, in the case of developing countries, greater efforts for water assessment should be directed towards capacity- building, the pooling of human and financial resources, and through regional and interregional cooperation.

In keeping with its overall strategy to enhance the efforts of its Member countries to address water-related issues, WMO is strengthening its Hydrology and Water Resources Programme and is promoting closer collaboration with other organizations involved in hydrology and related geosciences. In this context, WMO has established subregional offices for Western Africa and for Central America and the Caribbean, and is in the process of establishing such an office for the South-West Pacific region. This arrangement will bring the Organization closer to the national Hydrological and Meteorological Services, and to the regional organizations involved in water, and thus focus greater attention on their concerns and contribute to the enhancement of the delivery of services in the field of water.

This occasion of the celebration of the World Day for Water gives me the welcome opportunity to draw the attention, amongst others, of government officials, policy- makers, hydrologists, water resources engineers and meteorologists to the urgent need to enhance the monitoring and assessment of water resources in rivers and in aquifers, in particular in basins shared regionally or internationally, and especially in developing countries. I am confident that governments will continue to invest in this activity, to optimize the resources and to enhance the capabilities of national water agencies, in order to meet today's and the future increasing demand for water information and knowledge for sustainable development.

I would also like to invite the national Hydrological Services and water agencies to take the necessary initiatives to develop concrete and visionary plans, and corresponding implementation strategies, as to how they might best contribute to national and regional water resources assessment activities in the coming years.

On this World Day for Water, I would urge Member countries to celebrate the Day and to consider their responses to the question: "The nation's water - is there enough?", and relate it to the emerging global water crisis by considering suitable measures and technologies to safeguard and properly utilize this limited resource for future generations of humankind.

This year, WMO and UNESCO have been designated as lead agencies for the global celebration of the World Day for Water. I wish to express my thanks and appreciation to the following members of the Administrative Committee on Coordination's Joint United Nations Information Committee (JUNIC) for having contributed media features to the press kit for this Day: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements/Habitat (UNCHS/HABITAT), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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