‘Dangerous path’: Reckless water use spawning global crisis

UN World Water Development Report 2023 paints a stark picture of the huge gap that needs to be filled to ensure all people have access to clean water and sanitation by 2030.

Estimated cost of getting access to clean water for all people around the world is between $600bn and $1 trillion a year [File: Jalil Rezayee/EPA]

Drinking water supplies are increasingly at risk around the world because of overconsumption with billions of people unable to access it.

The United Nations issued the warning in a report ahead of a major summit on the issue to begin on Wednesday.

On average, “10% of the global population lives in countries with high or critical water stress” – and up to 3.5 billion people live under conditions of water stress at least one month a year, said the report issued by UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The world is “blindly travelling a dangerous path” as “unsustainable water use, pollution and unchecked global warming are draining humanity’s lifeblood”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a foreword.

The UN World Water Development Report 2023 painted a stark picture of the huge gap that needs to be filled to ensure all people have access to clean water and sanitation by 2030.

Richard Connor, editor-in-chief of the report, told a news conference the estimated cost of meeting the goals is somewhere between $600bn and $1 trillion a year.

Connor said the actual increase in demand is happening in developing countries and emerging economies where it is driven by industrial growth and especially the rapid increase in the population of cities. It is in these urban areas “that you’re having a real big increase in demand”, he said.

INTERACTIVE - How has water stress developed in the Middle East

‘Time not on our side’

With agriculture using 70 percent of all water globally, irrigation for crops has to be more efficient – as it is in some countries that now use drip irrigation, which saves water. “That allows water to be available to cities,” he said.

As a result of climate change, the report said, “seasonal water scarcity will increase in regions where it is currently abundant – such as Central Africa, East Asia and parts of South America – and worsen in regions where water is already in short supply, such as the Middle East and the Sahara in Africa”.

Connor said the biggest source of water pollution is untreated wastewater. “Globally, 80 percent of wastewater is released to the environment without any treatment and in many developing countries it’s pretty much 99 percent.”

Co-hosted by the governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands, the UN Water Conference will gather some 6,500 participants, including 100 ministers and a dozen heads of state and government on Wednesday through Friday in New York City.

“There is much to do and time is not on our side,” said Gilbert Houngbo, chair of UN-Water.

Source: News Agencies