More than 2.7 billion people will face severe water shortages by the year 2025 if the world continues consuming water at the same rate, the United Nations warns. A new report says that another 2.5 billion people will live in areas where it will be difficult to find enough water to meet their needs. The crisis is being blamed on mismanagement of existing water resources, population growth and changing weather patterns.

The areas most at risk are in semi-arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. But at least 120 million people living in Europe — one in seven people — still do not have access to clean water and sanitation. The UN says wasted water is costing Europe around $10 billion a year.

According to the report, an estimated 1.1 billion people have no access to safe drinking water, 2.5 billion lack proper sanitation and more than five million people die from waterborne diseases each year — 10 times the number of casualties killed in wars around the globe.

Less than 3% of the Earth’s water is fresh and most of it is in the form of polar ice or too deep underground to reach. The amount of fresh water that is accessible in lakes, rivers and reservoirs is less than a quarter of 1% of the total. ?Even where supplies are sufficient or plentiful, they are increasingly at risk from pollution and rising demand,? says UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. There are fears that future competition for water could cause wars. ?Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict,? says Annan.

Water ministers from 22 African countries have called for a regional and global alliance, to find solutions to water and sanitation problems. Desalination facilities that can turn salt water into drinking water need to be developed.

The UN says the water crisis will limit the ability to grow crops, which poor people need to survive. Agriculture consumes about 70% of the world?s available water, and small farmers are the first to lose their supply.

The UN is calling for a ?blue revolution? to conserve water supplies and develop new ones. Mohamed El-Baradei, who helped compile the UN report, says, ?The simple fact is that there is a limited amount of water on the planet, and we cannot afford to be negligent in its use. We cannot keep treating it as if it will never run out.?

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