UN warns of “imminent risk” of global water scarcity crisis

UN warns of “imminent risk” of global water scarcity crisis

Humanity “vampirizes” the planet’s water resources “drop by drop”, warns the UN in a report published hours before the start of the first conference on water in almost half a century, which will try to give hope to millions of people in danger by an “imminent” world crisis.

“The unsustainable use of water, pollution and uncontrolled global warming are draining the lifeblood of humanity, drop by drop,” warns the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in the foreword to the report published on the occasion of the United Nations conference on water, the first since the one in Mar del Plata in Argentina in 1977.

“Humanity is headed blindly down a dangerous path,” he stresses, before attacking the “vampirization” of this vital resource, which affects “everyone.”

Without enough water in many places, although too much or contaminated in others, dramatic situations multiply, and the UN-Water and Unesco report warns of the “imminent risk of a global water crisis.”

“How many people will be affected by this global water crisis is a matter of scenario,” its lead author, Richard Connor, told AFP. “If nothing is done, between 40 and 50% of the population will continue without access to sanitation services and about 20-25% to drinking water,” he says. Even if the percentages don’t change, the population is increasing, so more people will be affected, he observes.

To try to reverse the trend and guarantee everyone’s access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030, targets set in 2015, some 6,500 participants, including around a hundred ministers and some heads of state and government, meet until on Friday in New York, with concrete “commitments”.

“There is a lot to do and time is not on our side,” says Gibert Hougbo, president of UN-Water, a platform that coordinates the work of the UN, which has no agency dedicated to this vital issue.

Since 1977, no conference of this magnitude has been organized on this subject, which has been largely ignored.

In a world where freshwater consumption has increased by around 1% per year over the past 40 years – particularly in low-income and emerging countries – the report highlights difficulties that “tend to become more widespread”. and worsen with the impact of global warming. Agriculture absorbs 72% of the water, while consumption in the industrial sector fell 12%.

In regions such as Central America and the Caribbean, South America, and Asia, from 2000 to 2018, water withdrawals increased, unlike the rest of the world.

Around 10% of the world’s population lives in countries where water stress (the relationship between water use and its availability) has reached a high or critical level. According to the report by UN climate experts (Giec) published on Monday, “close to half of the world’s population” suffers “serious” water scarcity for at least part of the year.

This situation reflects inequalities. “No matter where you are, if you have enough money, you will manage to have water,” explains Richard Connor. But “the poorer, the more vulnerable one is to these crises.”

The problem is not only the lack of water, but the contamination that may be due to the absence or deficiencies of sanitation systems.

At least 2 billion people drink water contaminated by excrement, exposing them to cholera, dysentery, typhus and polio. Without forgetting the contamination of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, pesticides, microplastics or nanomaterials.

To guarantee everyone’s access to drinking water by 2030, the current levels of investment in this area would have to be multiplied by at least three, the report underlines.

Pollutants also threaten nature. Freshwater ecosystems that provide invaluable services to humanity, in particular by helping to combat global warming, are “among the most threatened in the world,” the report says.

“We have broken the water cycle,” summarizes Henk Ovink, special envoy for water from the Netherlands, co-organizer with Tajikistan of this UN conference, for AFP.

“We must act now because water-related insecurity undermines food security, health, energy security or urban development and (multiplies) social problems,” he adds. “It’s Now or Never: The Opportunity of a Generation.”


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