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Managing Water Resources in an Era of Scarcity

Less than one per cent of the world’s fresh water is readily accessible for human use, and supplies of quality freshwater are increasingly limited around the world. Already, more than 40 per cent of the world’s population live in river basins experiencing “water stress,” meaning that consumers are subject to frequent shortages.

In an era of scarcity, water is increasingly controversial. But on one point most experts agree: water can no longer be managed locally. There is a pressing need to institute comprehensive water resources management—both of river basins and below ground aquifers. A new assortment of more sophisticated tools must be applied to successfully meet this rapidly changing paradigm. Isotopic analytical techniques offer a unique assortment of data and information that can facilitate sustainable water resources management at a higher conceptual and spatial level.

Over a billion people in Asian cities and 150 million in Latin America already depend on groundwater. Yet the movement, recharge rates, and pollution threats to this precious resource are often poorly understood. Moreover, some of the world’s largest underground reservoirs lie beneath several countries. South America’s giant Guarani Aquifer flows under at least four nations. North Africa’s Nubian Aquifer stretches beneath vast desert areas in Egypt and Libya, and perhaps other countries.

At least 1.1 billion persons (one sixth of the global population) lacked access to safe drinking water in 2000. The majority live in Asia and Africa—where two out of five people lack improved water supply. In heavily populated Bangladesh, the danger has shifted from the bacteria-contaminated surface waters to arsenic-laden groundwater as rural people increasingly turned to village handpumps for readily accessible domestic supplies. Now the international aid community is looking to the IAEA’s isotope hydrology techniques for clear answers about which sources of deep groundwater may be safely and sustainably tapped to supply the 50 million-plus people who are threatened.

To successfully implement comprehensive water management, extensive data must be collected, shared, and analyzed by scientists and managers from all the concerned countries. The IAEA is applying its specialized knowledge, unique tools, and modest resources to these pressing concerns to yield viable solutions for its developing Member States.

  Managing Water Resources in an Era of Scarcity.


GUARDING THE GUARANI: Improving Management of South America’s Precious Groundwater Full Story...
POISONED WATERS: Bangladesh Reaches to Science for a Solution Full Story...
GREAT LAKES BENEATH THEIR FEET: Probing North Africa’s Oldest Water Treasures Full Story...

The strategic application of isotope hydrology tools is helping to improve the management of increasingly scarce water resources in many IAEA Member States.

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