Global water crisis is "imminent", warns UN

A hundred ministers and a dozen heads of state and government met in New York last week the issue of dwindling water resources. In a report, the UN warns "vampiric" humanity that a global crisis is "imminent" as water shortages "become more widespread".

Vampiric" humanity is depleting the planet's water resources "drop by drop", the UN warned ahead of the start of a conference on Wednesday (22 March) to try to meet the needs of billions of people at risk from an "imminent" global water crisis.

"Vampiric over-consumption and over-development, unsustainable exploitation of water resources, pollution and uncontrolled global warming are depleting, drop by drop, this source of life for humanity," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in the foreword to a report published a few hours before this UN water conference, the first of its kind in almost half a century. "Humanity has blindly embarked on a perilous path," he said. And "we are all suffering the consequences".

Not enough water in some places, too much in others where floods are multiplying, or contaminated water: if the dramatic situations are legion in many parts of the planet, the UN-Water and Unesco report published on Tuesday underlines the "imminent risk of a global water crisis".

"How many people will be affected by this global water crisis is a matter of scenario," lead author Richard Connor told AFP. "If nothing is done, 40-50% of the population will continue to lack access to sanitation and about 20-25% to safe drinking water," he notes. And even if the percentages don't change, the world's population is growing and so is the number of people affected.

To try to reverse the trend and hope to guarantee access to drinking water or toilets for all by 2030, goals set in 2015, some 6,500 participants, including a hundred ministers and a dozen heads of state and government, are meeting until Friday in New York, called upon to come up with concrete commitments. But already, some observers are concerned about the scope of these commitments and the availability of the necessary funding to implement them.


However, "there is a lot to be done and time is not on our side," says Gilbert Houngbo, President of UN-Water, the platform that coordinates the work of the United Nations, which has no dedicated agency on this subject. No conference of this magnitude has been organised since 1977 on this vital but long-overlooked issue.

In a world where freshwater use has increased by nearly 1% per year over the past 40 years, the UN-Water report highlights water shortages that "tend to become more widespread" and worsen with the impact of global warming, and will soon affect even regions that are currently spared in East Asia and South America.

About 10% of the world's population lives in a country where water stress is high or critical. And according to the report by UN climate experts (IPCC) published on Monday, "about half of the world's population" is experiencing "severe" water shortages for at least part of the year.

A situation that also highlights inequalities. "Wherever you are, if you're rich enough, you'll get water," notes Richard Connor. "The poorer you are, the more vulnerable you are to these crises."

"Now or never"

The problem is not just the lack of water, but the contamination of the water that may be available, due to the absence or deficiencies of sanitation systems. At least two billion people drink water contaminated with faeces, exposing them to cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Not to mention pollution from pharmaceuticals, chemicals, pesticides, microplastics and nanomaterials. To ensure that everyone has access to drinking water by 2030, current levels of investment would have to be multiplied by at least three, according to UN-Water.

And this pollution also threatens nature. Freshwater ecosystems that provide invaluable services to humanity, including helping to combat global warming and its impacts, are "among the most threatened in the world," according to the report.

"We have broken the water cycle," Henk Ovink, special envoy for water for the Netherlands, which co-organised the conference with Tajikistan, told AFP. "We need to act now because water insecurity undermines food security, health, energy security or urban development and social problems," he added. "It is now or never, the opportunity of a generation."


By Irrigazette with AFP