UN Urges Global Cooperation as Quarter of Humanity Lacks Safe Drinking Water

"Water is our common future and we need to act together to share it equitably and manage it sustainably," said the director-general of UNESCO.

By Julia Conley | 22 March 2023
Common Dreams

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Amid a lack of global cooperation, the world is far off-track in achieving universal access to clean drinking water by 2030, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday as officials marked World Water Day.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2023 was released by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as global leaders convened in New York for the first international conference on water in nearly half a century.

With seven years to go until the end of the decade, 26% of the world population lacks access to safe drinking water and 46% don’t have access to basic sanitation, the report found.

The persistent scarcity of potable water is being driven by a rapid increase in water use in recent decades, with usage growing by 1% per year in the last 40 years due to “a combination of population growth, socioeconomic development, and changing consumption patterns,” including within the agriculture industry. Yearly water use growth is expected to continue at this rate until at least 2050.

In some of the most affected areas of the globe, progress on closing the water access gap and meeting this aspect of the U.N.’s sixth Sustainable Development goal would need to quadruple.

“Water is our common future and we need to act together to share it equitably and manage it sustainably,” said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO. “As the world convenes for the first major United Nations conference on water in the last half century, we have a responsibility to plot a collective course ensuring water and sanitation for all.”

In addition to water use, UNESCO reported, “the acceleration and spreading of freshwater pollution”—the biggest source of which is untreated wastewater—and the climate crisis have helped to make water scarcity “endemic,” particularly in middle- and lower-income countries.

“As a result of climate change, seasonal water scarcity will increase in regions where it is currently abundant—such as 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 Sahel in Africa,” reads the report. “On average, 10% of the global population lives in countries with high or critical water stress.”

In a separate news report, Al Jazeera provided a visualization of water stress across the Middle East, showing how countries including Algeria, Egypt, and Sudan are “either extracting unsustainably from existing aquifer sources or relying heavily on desalination,” and how rising temperatures, increased demand, and the construction of dams has shrunk a number of lakes across the region.

The UNESCO report emphasizes that global partnerships and cooperation are crucial to ensuring universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2030, which Richard Connor, editor-in-chief of the report, told the Associated Press would require an investment of $600 billion to $1 trillion per year.

At the U.N. Water Conference, taking place from Wednesday through Friday, representatives from dozens of countries and international organizations focused on Indigenous rights, public health, and the climate are expected to speak about the solutions addressed in the report, including:

  • The reallocation of water from agriculture to urban centers, which has “become a common strategy to meet freshwater needs in growing cities”;
  • Watershed protection, which can provide biodiversity conservation as well as jobs and training opportunities;
  • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives such as water operators’ partnerships, which “connect established, well-functioning utilities with others that need assistance or guidance”;
  • Initiatives that allow the “meaningful” participation of beneficiaries, especially in rural areas; and
  • Coordination between climate and water agendas, with policymakers proactively reaching out to climate stakeholders and vice versa.

“Accelerating action through partnerships and cooperation between water and climate stakeholders can create additional benefits to freshwater ecosystems and to the most exposed and vulnerable people, reducing disaster risks, delivering cost savings, fostering job creation and generating economic opportunities,” reads the report.

“Safeguarding water, food, and energy security through sustainable water management, providing water supply and sanitation services to all, supporting human health and livelihoods, mitigating the impacts of climate change and extreme events, and sustaining and restoring ecosystems and the valuable services they provide, are all pieces of a great and complex puzzle,” it continues. “Only through partnerships and cooperation can the pieces come together. And everyone has a role to play.”

UN Chief at the UN 2023 Water Conference | United Nations

UN holds conference on global water scarcity | DW News

Quarter of world has no access to clean drinking water, says UN

Earth currently experiencing a sixth mass extinction, according to scientists | 60 Minutes

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