Many of world\'s lakes face death, expert warns
TOKYO - Many of the world\'s freshwater lakes face death by pollution, resulting in catastrophe for the human populations that depend on them, an environmental expert warned yesterday.
\"There is not a lake left on the planet that is not already being affected by human activities,\" said William Cosgrove, vice president of the World Water Council, an international organisation that deals with ecological problems involving water.
\"We\'re killing the lakes, and that could be disaster to the human communities that depend on them.\"
Cosgrove, in Japan to attend a week-long conference on saving lakes held in Otsu, a city in central Japan, told Reuters that the situation faced by many of the world\'s lakes - estimated to number some five million - is dire.
A majority of the hazards result from a rising demand for water throughout the world sparked by population growth, according to a statement issued by the World Water Council.
This leads to increased use and diversion of water, often for irrigating crops, along with contamination by toxic substances and nutrients from industry, farms and sewage.
Cosgrove, a Canadian, said that one insidious aspect of the threat faced by lakes is that, even though a lake may appear pristine, it could already have suffered serious damage.
\"Then something happens - like a change in water temperature - and all of a sudden a lake can be completely transformed,\" he said. \"Once the process starts, it\'s hard to stop.\"
An extreme example is that of Lake Victoria, Africa\'s largest lake, which has over the last two decades suffered the death of several species of fish and a dramatic increase in plant growth due to pollution from several sources, including raw sewage from surrounding towns.
\"Fishermen now can\'t even get their boats out away from the shore to go fishing,\" Cosgrove said.
Another seriously threatened lake is Taihu Lake in China, the World Water Council statement said, \"where experts say you can practically walk on its surface because of severe pollution.\"
Deterioration on this scale can lead to a lack of livelihood, resulting in poor nutrition and starvation in the populations surrounding the lake. Other problems include illnesses due to drinking tainted water and crop failure.
The potential impact is huge, Cosgrove added.
\"Humans are already using more than 50 percent of the usable freshwater resources, and 90 percent of this is in freshwater lakes,\" he said.
And despite the magnitude of the threat, dealing with the pollution of freshwater lakes remains low on the list of government priorities in many areas, he said.
As a result, one of the biggest goals of the World Water Council is simply to get the message across to ordinary people, hoping that the pressures of public opinion will finally prompt government action.
\"The most important thing is to get their voices organised, to say (to governments) that this is not something we want to happen and to get your priorities straight,\" he said.
Story by Elaine Lies
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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