ISTANBUL (AFP) - Ministerial-level talks on the world's worsening problems of water scarcity, pollution and sanitation began here Friday amid discord over whether water should be considered a fundamental "right" or a "need." More than 100 ministers or their stand-ins from around the globe are meeting at the World Water Forum until Sunday, which is World Water Day. They are due to issue a non-binding statement, acknowledging the target of providing clean water and sewerage for the world's 6.5 billion people yet also pledging to nurture the precious resources of rivers, lakes and aquifers. French Minister Borloo said his country hoped to toughen the communique so that it recognised access to safe drinking water and sanitation-referred to in the draft as a "basic human need"-as a "right." "Ecuador recognises water as a human right, a basic human right," Ecuador's water minister, Jorge Jurado, also told a plenary meeting. The textual debate "has huge legal ramifications," Anil Naidoo, of Canadian activist group Blue Planet Project, told AFP. "A 'basic human need' is meaningless." The seven-day forum has drawn around 27,000 experts, policymakers and activists to round tables, seminars and debates. They have heard often-grim news about the state of freshwater. Over-extraction is straining rivers, lakes and aquifers from southeastern Australia to California; water pollution is a serious problem in emerging giants such as China and India; and parched countries from Morocco to Central Asia will face chronic water stress as climate change bites. Around 880 million people do not have access to decent sources of drinking water, while 2.5 billion people do not have access to proper sanitation, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in a report. Adding to demand is population growth, running at around 80 million extra people a year and likely to peak around mid-century at around nine billion. By 2030, the number of people living under severe water stress is expected to rise to 3.9 billion, a tally that does not include the impacts of global warming, according to the OECD. Farming accounts for 70 percent of water use, a mammoth share that has to addressed, the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Jacques Diouf, said. "The millions of farmers around the world who provide us with the food we eat must be at the centre of any process of change," he said. "They need to be encouraged and guided to produce more with less water. This requires well-targeted investment, incentives and the right policy environment." Sunday's World Water Day focuses on cross-boundary cooperation on water. Rivalry over access to rivers and groundwater that straddle international or intranational frontiers is already causing tension, and some specialists predict a near future of "water wars."