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Water shortages could derail the developing world

Seven of the world's ten most populated regions face such severe water shortages over the next three decades that they threaten to derail the explosive growth they are forecast to make, with potentially dire consequences for them and dealing a huge blow to the global economy, according to a damning new report.

Water use in these regions – which include large parts of India, Bangla- desh and north-eastern Africa and are all in the developing world – is growing so fast that unless dramatic action is taken to safeguard its supply they will "face unsustainable water consumption, with significant water scarcity," warns the Frontier Economics report.

Failure to significantly improve the efficiency with which the water is collected and used, for example by improving pipelines and other infrastructure, "could mean that the GDP growth expected in the river basins would not materialise," the report adds.

The value of goods and services produced in these seven so-called water basins – areas of land drained by a river and its tributaries, the biggest of which is the Ganges which straddles parts of India, Bangladesh and Nepal – is forecast to increase more than seven-fold to $15,649bn (£10,118bn) by 2050. This would increase their share of the growing global economy from 3 per cent to 12 per cent and bring significant prosperity to hundreds of millions of people.

David Tickner, head of freshwater at WWF-UK, said: "This is an extremely serious issue for economies around the world. Improving the way we manage and allocate water is among the great challenges facing the world in the 21st century."

The situation is so serious that Douglas Flint, chairman of the HSBC banking giant, yesterday called for politicians, businesses and individuals around the world to join forces to tackle the problem.

"Today's findings show that the future of river basins in critical for global economic growth. Rapid, collaborative action is needed to improve water resource management in river basins," said Mr Flint.