‘Collaboration is key to the world’s growing water scarcity problem’

Twenty-six percent of the world’s population still does not have access to safe drinking water, while 46% lack access to basic sanitation, according to the United Nations World Water Development Report 2023, released on Tuesday ahead of the United Nations Water Conference, which started in New York today.

‘Collaboration is key to the world’s growing water scarcity problem’
Co-operation was key to improving water security for the world’s most vulnerable, according to a new report.
Photo: FW Archive
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The report projected that the global urban population facing water scarcity could double from 930 million people in 2016 to between 1,7 billion and 2,4 billion people in 2050.

The situation, however, differed greatly between world regions. The report found that water stress increased by 0,1% globally between 2008 and 2018, but decreased by 6,4% in Europe and Northern America, and by 5,3% in Central and Southern Asia over the same time.

In North and West Africa, however, water stress increased by 4,3% over this time, by 7,1% in Eastern and Southeast Asia, 7,6% in Oceania, 14,2% in sub-Saharan Africa and 15,4% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Richard Conner, the report’s editor-in-chief, said during a media briefing that there would “definitely be a [water scarcity] crisis” if something was not done soon.

He identified partnerships and co-operation as key to realising human rights to water and overcoming existing challenges. “Strengthening transboundary co-operation is the main tool to avoid conflict and escalating tensions, with 153 countries sharing nearly 900 rivers, lakes and aquifer systems, and more than half having signed agreements.”

The report highlighted how enhancing positive, meaningful co-operation among water, sanitation and broader development communities was important for the acceleration of progress related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. For instance, by investing in agricultural communities upstream, farmers could benefit in ways that helped the downstream cities they fed.

States and stakeholders could also co-operate in areas such as flood and pollution control, data sharing and co-financing. “From wastewater treatment systems to protecting wetlands, efforts contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions should open the door to further collaboration and increase access to water funds,” he said.

Johannes Cullman, special scientific advisor to the president of the World Meteorological Organisation, said that current investments had to be quadrupled to between $US600 billion and $US1 trillion per year to achieve 100% access to clean water and sanitation by 2030. However, he added that water resources and how they were managed impacted almost all of the other (SDGs).

“It’s a question of investing wisely. We should not negotiate water; we should deliberate on it,” he said.

This sentiment was echoed in a joint statement issued by a group of 18 United Nations independent experts and special rapporteurs yesterday, according to which water should be “managed as a common good, not a commodity.”

“Considering water as a commodity or business opportunity will leave behind those that cannot access or afford the market prices, and hamper efforts to solve the water crisis. The UN’s SDG of access to water and sanitation for all will only be achievable if communities and human rights are at the centre of discussions,” they said.