Countries around the world are making steady progress to preserve and protect key sources of water supply. Through IAEA-supported projects valued at nearly $9 million this year, water specialists in more than 40 countries are acquiring knowledge and skills that help find the missing pieces of scientific and technical information that guide decisions about how water is developed and managed. Still other countries are engaged in projects involving nuclear technologies for desalting seawater, and radiation techniques for tracking water pollutants that can pose health and safety problems
On 22 March, the commemoration of World Water Day 2001 focuses renewed international attention on issues of water scarcity, pollution, and conservation. This year's theme -- Water for Health -- particularly underlines issues of water quality, as well as quantity. In the coming decades, the world's growing population will add to demands for safe and clean water supplies. The UN foresees the chance of a serious world water shortage during this decade, and its Agenda 21outlines a multi-step programme of action.
Through the IAEA, countries are engaged in a range of scientific research programmes, national and regional technical projects, and training seminars and workshops. They include steps to promote:
- Safe and clean water supplies. In Bangladesh, for example, a project is providing vital information in groundwater studies launched in response to the serious health problem caused by arsenic contamination of drinking water.
- Production of drinking water from oceans. Egypt, France, and India are among countries pursuing demonstration projects for desalting seawater with the application of nuclear energy, an approach known as nuclear desalination.
- Environmental protection of rivers and seas. Turkey and other countries bordering the Black Sea are
- Productive farmlands. Most of the world's freshwater supplies are used for growing crops that feed us. Saline or brackish water could be useful for some plants, as countries in Africa and Asia are demonstrating through an IAEA interregional project in cooperation with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
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Postscript: Japan will host the next World Water Forum in 2003, which the UN General Assembly has designated as the International Year of Freshwater. Between now and then, countries worldwide will be hosting national, regional and international conferences and meetings devoted to water issues. For news and updates about them, search for "water" in WorldAtom's Meetings on Atomic Energy database. To see how nuclear and radiation technologies can be used for water studies and other applications, check the video and film collection on the Multimedia pages.