Our world's freshwater supplies are threatened by rapid urbanization, a huge increase in the demand for food, and the diverse effects of climate change on water supplies, and a "radical new approach" is called for, according to a new United Nations report.
The UN World Water Development Report, "Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk," to be released at the World Water Forum in Marseille, claims that there will be an estimated 70% increase in food demand by 2050, which will increase the amount of water used for agriculture by almost 20% (and with about 70% of the world's freshwater being used for agriculture, that's a huge increase).
"Freshwater is not being used sustainably, according to needs and demands. Accurate information remains disparate, and management is fragmented. In this context, the future is increasingly uncertain and risks are set to deepen." - Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
According to the report, countries have tripled their water extraction in the last 50 years in response to the growing demand, and in some of the underground water sources, the levels are critically low and cannot be replenished.
Climate change will also have an increased impact on our water resources in near future. Altered rainfall patterns, changes to underground water sources, changes in soil humidity, glacier-melt and river-flow are said to be affected by changes in our climate. Water-related disasters such as droughts and floods are increasing in frequency and intensity, and the authors of the report say that "climate change will drastically affect food production in South Asia and Southern Africa between now and 2030", and that by the year 2070, water-stress could affect up to 44 million people in central and southern Europe.
Another piece of the water puzzle is the fact that while access to water has improved in many regions, the sanitation infrastructure is not keeping up, and over 80% of the world’s waste water is neither collected nor treated.
The report also predicts that these pressures on the world's water supplies will "exacerbate economic disparities between countries, as well as between sectors or regions within countries". A large portion of the burden will fall on the poor, it says, and billions of people in developing countries "could face reduced livelihoods and life chances"
What is necessary, says the report, is better governance of water resources, including investments in infrastructure from both private and public sectors, and more of a focus on water in development planning.
"The WWDR4 aims to encourage all stakeholders both in and out of the ‘water box’ - water managers, leaders in government, civil society and businesses – to engage early in decision making processes to improve the quality and acceptance of decisions and the probability of successful implementation." - United Nations