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1. Introduction: pressures on water resources

    The past decade has witnessed a fundamental shift in public awareness of and concern about the threats to water resources and surrounding ecosystems. But when it comes to policy, little has changed. Most decisions about the management of water resources remain the product of economic criteria and politically charged reasoning – regardless of whether they concern a town, a region, a country or even several countries. Despite repeated calls from world experts, we are a long way from an approach to the management of water resources that reflects scientific understanding and use of best available practice. Meanwhile, the pressure on our water resources is mounting.

    The factors affecting water resources include the following:

    • population growth, particularly in water-short regions,
    • movement of large numbers of people from the countryside to towns and cities,
    • demands for greater food security and higher living standards,
    • increased competition between different uses of water resources, and
    • pollution from factories, cities, and farmlands.

    Climate change and natural variability in the distribution and occurrence of water further complicate the sustainable development of our water resources.

    Still, some progress is being made. At the national and regional levels, officials are evaluating how much water of what quality is available, and coordinating efforts to manage its use. Increasingly these activities are being carried out by new organizations working across borders to address water resources shared by more than one country. For example, communities in flood-prone areas stand to benefit from recent international initiatives that take a joint approach to flood control. More...