World Lakes Said Overused, Polluted

Updated: Mon, Nov 12 5:02 AM EST

By HANS GREIMEL, Associated Press Writer

TOKYO (AP) - Nearly 1 billion people are at risk because of overuse and pollution of the world's lakes, said global experts gathered Monday in central Japan to draw up plans for fighting the trend.

Already, more than half the world's lakes and reservoirs - representing 90 percent of all liquid fresh water on the Earth's surface - have been harmed by pollution and drainage, said delegates at the International Conference on Conservation and Management of Lakes.

The problem is likely to get worse as the world's population increases, they said.

"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.

The lakes symposium in Shiga, Japan, is a preparatory meeting for the Third World Water Forum, which is expected to draw about 8,000 researchers and government officials when it convenes in the nearby city of Kyoto in 2003.

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 said.

As an example of how fast things can change, panelists said 543 large and medium-sized lakes disappeared in China alone between 1950 and 1980 as their water was diverted for irrigation.

Adding to the dilemma is global warming, which is expected to raise average lake temperatures by 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 50 years, Cosgrove said. Warmer water is not as good at naturally cleansing itself of pollution.

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