Since 1993, the world has observed March 22nd as International Water Day to recognize the importance of water, raise awareness, and inspire people to take action to address the water and sanitation crisis.
This year, the United Nations (UN) 2023 Water Conference is being hailed as “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to accelerate actions towards sustainable development goal 6 by 2030, currently in the UN Headquarters.
The three-day event is co-hosted by Tajikistan and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
“In deep trouble”
Water is vital for every life form and critical for development to ensure a better future. As the UN chief, Antonio Guterres, warned is “in deep trouble.”
“We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use and evaporating it through global heating. We have broken the water cycle, destroyed the ecosystem and contaminated groundwater,” he added.
Water is humanity’s lifeblood.
At this week's @UN Water Conference, I'm urging countries to come together & find solutions to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to clean & safe water.
Now is the moment for game-changing commitments to bring the #WaterAction Agenda to life. pic.twitter.com/ShWBWjNBsc
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) March 22, 2023
Noting that almost three out of the five natural disasters are interlinking water, vis-`a-vis linking with human life.
From “too much” to “too little,” is water everywhere?
According to UN Water data, which tracks progress towards SDG 6 – which seeks to achieve all eight targets of SDG 6 – it is estimated that 2-3 billion people, or one in every four people worldwide, live in a water-stressed country.
Water stress occurs when the demand for the aquifer, which is safe and usable water, in a specific area exceeds the supply.
Predominantly because of the ecological factors or the economic scarcity to provide adequate infrastructure, the state is either depleting its resources faster than they can be replenished or has undoubtedly high levels of desalination water production.
According to the UNICEF Report of 2021, titled ‘Running Dry: The Impact of Water Scarcity on Children in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA),’ it was highlighted that nine out of every ten kids in MENA live in areas of extreme high-water stress, with consequential effects on their health and nutrition, cognitive development, and prospects of livelihoods.
In addition, the report pointed out that of the most water-stressed nations worldwide, more than half are located in the MENA region.
Furthermore, the UN World Water Development Report 2023 portrays a stark disparity in the needs to be fulfilled to ensure that all people have access to clean water and sanitation by 2030.
In the wake of rising global average temperatures annually, UN experts have projected declines in renewable water sources.
The data from the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO’s) State of Climate Services 2021 indicated that over 20 percent of the world’s rivers experienced a rapid increase or decline in their surface water area in 2020.
The number of droughts has increased since 2000 compared to the previous decades.
A series of such occurrences portends the worst about global warming. For instance, it is expected to rise in water-stressed areas across the globe.
What does it lead to?
The challenges of farming arise as rainfall becomes unpredictable after a significant rise in temperature which causes soil water to evaporate.
Global warming, coupled with increased demand for water and the construction of infrastructure like dams, has led to the disappearance and shrinkage of certain lakes in already water-stressed states, like in the Middle East.
Notably, two lakes in Iran and Iraq have disappeared.
The Report 2023 states: “Seasonal water scarcity will increase in regions where it is currently abundant—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.”
Conflict-torn regions and developing economies across the globe are adversely affected. Livelihoods are affected, and “water” becomes the primary driver of resource-based conflict.
For instance, in the Sahel, predominant reliance on natural resources, increasing population, and impacts of climate change are coupled with fractured political will and governance apparatus to curb or mitigate climate-related conflicts, contributing to vulnerability and displacement.
At the conference, UN-Water Chair Gilbert Houngbo stated, “There is much to do, and time is not on our side.”