UN chief warns of growing water scarcity

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that by 2030, nearly half the world's population could be facing a scarcity of water, with demand outstripping supply by 40 percent.

One in three people already live in a country with moderate to high water stress, Ban told a U.N. event marking the opening of the International Year of Water Cooperation 2013. It also marked the 20th anniversary of the proclamation of World Water Day.

"Competition is growing among farmers and herders; industry and agriculture; town and country; upstream and downstream; and across borders," the secretary-general said.

Ban said international cooperation is essential "to protect and manage this fragile, finite resource," especially as the world population grows and the climate changes.

And with more people moving to urban areas, water use is projected to increase by 50 percent by 2025, said Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, head of the European Union delegation to the United Nations.

By that time, he said, roughly 5.5 billion people - two-thirds of the projected global population - "will live in areas facing moderate to severe water stress."

Mayr-Harting said the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half the proportion of people without access to clean water by 2015 is likely to be surpassed.

But he said "over 780 million people today do not have access to improved sources of drinking water, especially in Africa, and major inequities remain."