Water shortage and contamination are cause for growing national and international concern. Increasing water costs, and disagreement over the availability and use of water, create tensions, within and between countries. Of all environmental questions, those related to water are perhaps the most far-reaching in their consequences - ecological, social, economic, political and strategic - and among the most complex to tackle scientifically.
These questions can no longer be addressed without help from science and technology, and particularly from biotechnology-bioremediation, which offers some of the best ways to prevent and/or reduce water contamination and pollution everywhere. Biotechnology can also help reduce agricultural water use, by modifying crop plants.
One of the most urgent tasks is in the area of public health. Microbial pathogens pose a serious threat to the world's drinking water; significant outbreaks of infectious diseases occur even in industrialised countries. For the first time, through molecular biology, the tools available to address such global public health concerns in a precise and timely manner are available.
At the Mexico workshop held in Cocoyoc, Morelos, in October 1996, leading experts reviewed these issues and the latest scientific and technological solutions. This was one of the most comprehensive international gatherings on questions of biotechnology and water. It is the first of a number of new OECD initiatives to address some of the world's main water problems.