The world will spend $600 billion over the next decade to augment water reserves, as demand spurred by urbanization and agriculture outstrips available supplies, according to the World Bank.
"We are warning the world that there is a huge problem looming out there," said Ismail Serageldin, a bank vice president. "Unless current trends are reversed, we will have a worsening water crisis around the planet."Water is abundant in many parts of the world, but some 80 countries are experiencing water shortages serious enough to threaten agriculture, said a World Bank report, released Saturday. It was prepared for an international symposium in Stockholm starting Aug. 13.
With the world's population expected to expand from today's 5.6 billion to 8 billion in 2025, demands on water for households, industries and irrigation will grow rapidly.
Meanwhile, the supply is increasingly being contaminated by pollution from industry, domestic waste and farm chemicals, the paper said.
"The water problem in most countries stems not from a shortage of water but rather from its inefficient and unsustainable use," Serageldin said. "We need to change our attitudes toward water and stop wasting it the way we do."
Most countries with limited water are in the Middle East, North Africa, central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where populations are growing fastest. Other regions facing water scarcity are northern China, southern India, western South America and large parts of Pakistan and Mexico.
Global demand, which has increased at a rate of 2.3 percent a year, doubling every 21 years, must be slowed, the paper said.
It recommended that the problem be addressed by establishing associations of river and lake users to manage water and by selling water at prices high enough to encourage conservation.
"The experts all agree on the need to do something fast," Serageldin said. "The main problem is the lack of political will to carry out these recommendations."