Water management is key to averting more Africa-type drought and food crises

Other disasters on the scale of the African drought could develop unless societies learn to manage water resources. Drought-stricken Sudan has vast, underground water depositsr, experts say, but warn that overexploitation of this life-supporting reserve in other parts of the eastern Sahara threatens agriculture there, too.

The quest for water for both survival and development in rural areas of the world was the theme of the fifth World Congress on Water Resources held here earlier this month. The conference attracted some 1,000 public authorities, researchers, and equipment manufacturers.

Although water covers three-quarters of the earth's surface, misallocation or abuse of water resources, and competition for available supplies are making it an increasingly scarce resource for some 2 billion people, participants said, citing United Nations figures. Halfway through a decade devoted by the UN to seeking adequate and clean water for these billions, experts at the conference warned that the goal remained distant.

Yassin Abdel Salam Haggaz of the University of Khartoum told the conference that relatively small amounts of the huge underground Sudanese aquifers, or water basins, are exploited. Some is drinkable, some useable only for irrigation. Both are vitally needed.

Other participants argued that the ``tremendous reserves of water [that] exist under many deserts'' should be developed much as oil is.

Dr. L. V. Da Cunha discussed various strategies for forecasting droughts and limiting their severity.

India was the focus of considerable attention. About 200,000 of its 576,000 villages have no protected drinking water.

Discussions on water management in India and other third-world countries highlighted the complexities of safeguarding natural resources and promoting economic development.

An Indian participant emphasized that development had to be the first priority. ``Our problem is attracting investment and industries, next is pollution control.''

Many experts from the industrialized countries, insisted both were necessary if disasters such as the accident at the chemical plant in Bhopal, India, in which more than 2,000 died, were to be avoided.

Growing and often chaotic urbanization is becoming a major source of pollution competition for water, he noted. 30{et

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