According to the UN World Water Development Report, the number of people without access to safe drinking water in cities around the world will double by the year 2050, amid warnings of an imminent water crisis that is likely to spiral out of control. Nearly 1 billion people in cities around the world are facing water scarcity and the number is likely to reach between 1.7 billion and 2.4 billion within the next three decades, according to the UN World Water Development Report released on Tuesday. By the year 2050, urban water demand is predicted to increase by 80%.
Water shortages are becoming more frequent in rural areas, according to the report. Between 2 billion and 3 billion people have water shortages for at least a month a year.
Audrey Azoulay, the director general of the UN agency that produced the report, said governments must cooperate over water. There is an urgent need to establish strong international mechanisms to prevent the global water crisis from spiralling out of control. She said that water is our common future, and it is important to act together to share it equitably and sustainably.
The UN has held its first water conference since 1977 in New York this week, co-hosted by the governments of the Netherlands and Tajikistan, at which global water issues will be discussed with ministers and a small number of heads of state from around the world. They will hear about the looming water crisis, which has been neglected by governments.
According to the report, about 2 billion people in the world don't have safe drinking water, while 3.6 billion people don't have access to safe managed sanitation.
The use of water in the world is growing by 1% a year for the last 40 years and this will continue, driven by population growth and development. Around a 10th of the world's population live in countries with high water stress.
Experts told the Guardian that governments were failing to take seriously the water crisis. Johan Rockstr m, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-chair of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, said the scientific evidence shows that we have a water crisis. We are misusing water, polluting water and changing the whole global hydrological cycle through what we are doing to the climate. A landmark report published last week by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water found that demand for fresh water would surpass supply by 40% by the year 2030. The report found that this would have huge implications for the global economy, for nature, for urban living, and for the climate, but few governments were taking action to preserve water supplies and reduce pollution.
Rockstr m said addressing the problems with water was essential to tackling other global crises, including food and climate. He said that if we fix water, there will be no agricultural revolution. There is always water and we never talk about water behind all these challenges we are facing. Richard Connor, lead author of the report, said there should be new water funds and finance schemes that bring together users of water in cities with businesses and utilities to invest in water resources, such as habitats and river systems managed by farmers, to protect their water sources.
He said that such partnerships had shown promise in countries such as Mexico, where a water fund in Monterrey was launched in 2013 had reduced flooding, restored natural habitats and maintained high water quality for urban users through a new financing arrangement.
The report found that overseas development aid for water has grown from $2.7 billion a year in 2002, but it's still small at $8.7 billion a year in 2022.