Water shortages in parts of the world in the next 25 years will pose the single greatest threat to food production and human health, according to a study financed by the United States and Japan.
At a time when 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to clean water, it also could become a key issue in conflicts, warns Ismail Serageldin, vice president of the World Bank and the report's author.
"New ways must be developed to take advantage of this diminishing resource if humanity is to feed itself in the 21st century," Serageldin said.
Work on the atlas was financed by the Japanese government and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
To improve water management, the group has compiled an electronic world water and climate atlas, a high-tech undertaking designed to assist local farmers, their bankers, government planners and international financial groups.
The group hopes to add more local information to the atlas.