Water is essential to life, but also provides the broadest of services without which human society could not function. Since the start of the industrial revolution, global water usage has continued to increased many-fold. Current patterns of freshwater use cannot be sustained if the human population maintains its rate of growth. Many more countries could suffer from chronic water shortages due to rapid population growth, and possible disadvantageous climatic changes. Competition for water resources is growing and exceeding institutional capacity to manage it, as well as leading to more environmentally degrading water diversion, retention and extraction methods such as damming. In most countries, irrigated agriculture is the main consumer of water. As with irrigation, other water uses are often mismanaged and can lead to consequences such as gross over usage and waste of water, salinization, overpumping and land subsidence. Throughout the world, water quality is impaired by pollution and misuse, and water pathogens are the biggest killer and cause of disease in lower-income countries.
Global water withdrawal has increased an estimated thirty-five-fold during the last three centuries, and is projected to increase by 30-35% by 2000. Irrigated agriculture accounts for about seventy percent of world water withdrawal, but less than half of the water supplied contributes to crop growth. Many countries suffer serious water shortage. Water diversion, extraction and retention are having increasingly severe impacts on ecosystems.
The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is a collaboration between UIA and Mankind 2000, started in 1972. It is the result of an ambitious effort to collect and present information on the problems with which humanity is confronted, as well as the challenges such problems pose to concept formation, values and development strategies. Problems included are those identified in international periodicals but especially in the documents of some 60,000 international non-profit organizations, profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations.
The Encyclopedia includes problems which such groups choose to perceive and act upon, whether or not their existence is denied by others claiming greater expertise. Indeed such claims and counter-claims figure in many of the problem descriptions in order to reflect the often paralyzing dynamics of international debate. In the light of the interdependence demonstrated among world problems in every sector, emphasis is placed on the need for approaches which are sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and rival worldviews that undermine collective initiative towards a promising future.
Non-profit, apolitical, independent, and non-governmental in nature, the UIA has been a pioneer in the research, monitoring and provision of information on international organizations, international associations and their global challenges since 1907.