OTTAWA - A prestigious group of former world leaders and experts is sounding the alarm about a water crisis that threatens peace, political stability and economic development around the globe.

The InterAction Council has issued a new report warning that the future impact of water scarcity could be devastating.

The report comes as foreign ministers from a number of countries prepare for a special discussion of the water crisis later this month on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

The report doesn't call for specific action by the UN.

But former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien, who co-chairs the council, says the group is trying to raise awareness of the urgency of the crisis in hopes that the Security Council will recognize water as a top security concern facing the planet.

"We want to alert the Security Council that there's a major problem," Chretien told reporters on a teleconference call Monday.

Zafar Adeel, director of the UN University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health, said the Security Council has never focused specifically on water security.

The report, prepared in conjunction with the Hamilton-based institute and the Toronto-based Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, says 4,500 children die every day because of diseases related to unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation.

And the problem, it warns, will only get worse.

With an additional billion people on the planet by 2025, another trillion cubic meters of water will be required each year — equivalent to the annual flow of 20 Niles or 100 Colorado Rivers.

In less than 20 years, the demand for water is expected to exceed supplies in India and China, the world's two most populous countries.

And the effects of climate change will result in droughts in some parts of the planet, flooding in others.

The report predicts conflicts in future may well erupt over scarce water supplies, in particular in already unstable regions like the Middle East and Africa.

"As some of these nations are already politically unstable, such crises may have regional repercussions that extend well beyond their political boundaries," says former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in a foreword to the report.

"But even in politically stable regions, the status quo may very well be disturbed first and most dramatically by the loss of stability in hydrological patterns."

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