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close this bookFreshwater Resources in Arid Lands (UNU, 1997, 94 p.)
close this folder1: Fresh water - A scarce resource in arid lands
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentInternational efforts
View the documentFresh water - A limited resource
View the documentA personal history
View the documentTraditional wisdom
View the documentProblems of major continental aquifers
View the documentThe Aral crisis - Ecocide in arid lands
View the documentHydropolitics along the Jordan river basin and the Dead Sea
View the documentConclusions
View the documentReferences

International efforts

Besides those general reminders, independent organizations have executed their own programmes, for example the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Bank, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). UNEP has been one of the main organs to deal with "desertification" and many other activities including water problems. UNEP is not an executing agency, like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), but has given many recommendations for research and project-making. Concerning desertification, other agencies such as the United Nations Sudano-Sahelian Office (UNSO) or the Club du Sahel and the Comitermanent Inter-Etats de Lutte contre la Seresse dans le Sahel (CILSS) are also interested in water problems. Needless to say, water shortage is one of the main causes of desertification. FAO, as a representative agency for agriculture, considers water for agriculture as one of the important research items, next to soil.

UNESCO created its Arid Land Programmes (1955-1985) and subsequent global programmes such as the IBP (International Biosphere Programme). The Man and the Biosphere programme (MAB) also includes many topics on arid lands and water.

For potable water and sanitation, the role of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) should not be forgotten. Of course, for meteorological data and analysis of climate change, the role of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is very important.

Since UNCED, the process of each government's reconsideration of Agenda 21 for individual action plans has become a political issue. Although we achieved consensus about Agenda 21, the subsequent practical actions need much funding from each UN member. Especially on issues such as arid lands, that are addressed in the Agenda's chapter 12 on desertification, we have to overcome various barriers including politico-economic issues.

The United Nations University (UNU) started operations in 1975 and is a young family member in comparison with other UN organs, but it has pursued a good number of programmes from the beginning, and its series of publications and independent books on water issues are well disseminated.

We also have a good team on the subject of arid lands. Recently, a group on hydropolitics has become active in organizing a series of forums on various international water bodies. For this purpose, UNU networks extensively with global academic institutions and individuals. Furthermore, UNU, with its complete academic freedom and neutral atmosphere, should be able to contribute in a useful way within the realm of the UN family.

Besides the international organizations mentioned above, we must refer to international organs such as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), within which we have research centres, such as the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), that are working for the improvement of crops in arid and semi-arid areas.

If we talk about non-governmental organizations (NGOs), we have several international groups such as IHP (International Hydrological Programme), IWRA (International Water Resources Association), IIID (International Institute of Irrigation and Drainage) and IDDA (International Drylands Development Association), and of course in each region and country there are many associations as well. In Japan, few associations of arid land studies exist, but the liaison committee of the Water Sciences Associations in the Japan Science Council is to coordinate those international and national activities. We must also mention grass-roots activities sponsored by non-profit NGOs who carry out several water-related projects (for example in the Sahel).

Table 1 Global Population and Water Use Trends


Water use




Population (billions)




Water withdrawal per capita (m³/year)




Water withdrawal total (km³/year)




Source: Raskin et al. (1995).