The world faces an “imminent risk” of water shortages amid a global water crisis caused by overconsumption and climate change, a United Nations report has warned.
Published by UN Water and Unesco, the report highlights that “scarcity is becoming endemic” and seasonal water shortages are set to get worse with global warming – and not only in areas already affected by water poverty.
UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres blamed “unsustainable water use, pollution and unchecked global warming” for the threat to the world’s water supply, calling water “humanity’s lifeblood”.
Timed to coincide with last week’s UN water summit (the first since 1977), the report uses hard-hitting language, naming “vampiric overconsumption and overdevelopment” as key problems and describing humankind as “blindly travelling a dangerous path.” Progress on water management and sanitation has been “inadequate” and some stakeholders need to quadruple their rate of implementation towards 2030’s sustainability goals of clean water and sanitation for all.
According to lead author, Richard Connor, “up to 3.5 billion people live under conditions of water stress at least one month a year”. He told the BBC that 10% of the global population “currently lives in areas that are high or critical water stress”.
The UN’s most recent climate report, published last Monday by the IPCC expert panel, echoes the warnings, estimating that “roughly half of the world’s population currently experience severe water scarcity for at least part of the year”.
Speaking to reporters ahead of last week’s summit, Connors was categorical.
If we don’t address it, there definitely will be a global crisis.Richard Connor, lead author of United Nations report
UNDP Associate Administrator Usha Rao Monari was more optimistic but left no doubt about the scale of the task ahead. “There is enough water on the planet if we manage it more effectively than we have managed it over the last few decades,” she said. “We will have to find new governance models, new finance models, new models of using water and reusing water than ever before. I think that technology and innovation will play a very large role in looking at how to manage the water sector and the use of water.”
The UN 2023 Water Conference at the UN Headquarters in New York, was jointly hosted by the governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands, and brought together 6,500 participants and stakeholders from around the world, including 100 ministers and a dozen heads of state and government.