One billion people at risk from world's shrinking and polluted lakes ...

Nearly 1 billion people are at risk because of overuse and pollution of the world's lakes, say global experts meeting in central Japan.

More than half the world's lakes and reservoirs, representing 90 percent of all liquid fresh water on the Earth's surface, are degraded by pollution and drainage.

And the problem is likely to get worse as the world's population increases, according to delegates at the International Conference on Conservation and Management of Lakes.

"Lakes are among the most vulnerable and difficult to restore of all natural ecological systems, but they have been widely ignored even as they have deteriorated," said Masahisa Nakamura, director of Japan's Lake Biwa Research Institute.

Up to 1 billion people worldwide depend on endangered nearby lakes for drinking water, sewage, fishing, irrigation, transportation or tourism, said World Water Forum vice president William Cosgrove. As those lakes wither, so do their livelihoods and health.

People in developing countries, who are more dependent on local surface water, are especially vulnerable, delegates claim.

Part of the problem is that the number of lakes is shrinking rapidly as a growing population overtaps them for irrigation and drinking water or overpollutes them with sewage and industrial runoff.

Adding to the dilemma is global warming, which is expected to raise average lake temperatures by 2-3 degrees Celsius (3.6-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next 50 years.

Among the lakes on current session's watch list: the Great Lakes of North America, Lake Okeechobee in Florida, Lake Victoria in Africa and the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The conference, taking place on the shores of Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake, is expected to conclude with a proposal on ways of saving lakes. Measures might include focusing conservation efforts on the entire watershed and not just the lake itself or implementing incentives for local people to take a bigger stake in the health of local lakes.

Last updated: 07:09 Monday 12th November 2001
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