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A lack of political commitment threatens to exacerbate a global water crisis of "unprecedented levels", according to a United Nations report published today.

The World Water Development Report — the first ever UN system-wide evaluation of global water resources — warns that both water scarcity and quality are set to worsen over the coming years, and that despite widely available evidence of the crisis and pledges to address it, the political will to reverse these trends is lacking.

"Attitude and behaviour problems lie at the heart of the crisis," says the report. "Inertia at leadership level, and a world population not fully aware of the scale of the problem means we fail to take the needed timely corrective actions."

The survey predicts that by 2050 up to seven billion people — three quarters of the world's population — will be faced with water scarcity, with climate change accounting for an estimated 20 per cent of this increase. Water quality will also worsen with increasing pollution and water temperatures.

"The poor continue to be the worst affected, with 50 per cent of the population in developing countries exposed to polluted water sources," says the report. And the study finds that rivers in Asia are the most polluted in the world, both in terms of bacteria and contaminants such as lead.

The report has been released ahead of the World Water Forum to be held in Kyoto, Japan from 16 to 23 March, where its conclusions will be discussed by a high-level panel.

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