Urgent Need to Manage Water More Sustainably: UN Report

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The world has never been so thirsty and more and more water needs to be produced to meet the needs of an ever-growing population, and the agriculture and energy sectors, said the report. Photo Credit: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Article courtesy of Mayank Aggarwal & Pretika Khanna | March 20, 2015 | Mint | Shared as educational material

New Delhi: By 2030, the world will be staring at a 40% shortfall in water supply unless there is a dramatic improvement in water management, according to a UN report on Friday ahead of World Water Day on 22 March.

The 2015 United Nations World Water Development Report, Water for a Sustainable World, published by World Water Assessment Programme, stressed the urgent need for changing the way water is used and managed.

The world has never been so thirsty and more and more water needs to be produced to meet the needs of an ever-growing population, and the agriculture and energy sectors, said the report.

“From now until 2050, agriculture, which consumes most water, has to produce 60% more food globally, 100% in developing countries,” the report noted.

The agriculture sector will need to increase its water use efficiency by reducing water losses.

Observing that demand for manufactured goods is also increasing, exterting more pressure on water resources, the report said the global water demand in the manufacturing industry is expected to increase by 400% from 2000 to 2050, leading all other sectors.

Demand for water is expected to increase by 55% by 2050 mainly due to growing demand from manufacturing, thermal electricity generation and domestic use, it said.

The report expressed concern over diminishing groundwater supplies; an estimated 20% of the world’s aquifers are currently being over-exploited.

It also said the rising sea level is threatening groundwater in coastal areas like Kolkata, Shanghai and Dhaka where groundwater reserves are being contaminated by salt water.

The report called for management of the global water cycle to be made one of the future sustainable development goals (SDGs) for 2030.

“The proposed SDGs would thus take into account questions of governance, water quality, wastewater management and the prevention of natural disasters,” said the report.

“The report’s observations are timely, because the international community has to draw up a new development programme to take over from the Millennium Development Goals,” said Unesco director-general Irina Bokova.

The report noted that 748 million people are still without access to improved drinking water sources and those affected are the poor, the disadvantaged and women.

The report recommended limiting the development of thermal power stations which at present produce 80% of the world’s electricity and consume vast quantities of water. “This could be achieved, for example, by granting subsidies to renewable energies such as wind and solar, which are still relatively expensive,” said the report.

The report further said development through activities like intensive crop irrigation, uncontrolled release of pesticides and chemicals into watercourses and the absence of wastewater treatment is putting a strain on water and its environmental cost is also seen in terms of irreversible damage to many ecosystems across the world, especially in wetlands and coastal areas.

“This substantially reduces their capacity to perform vital ecosystem services such as water purification and storage. Climate change only adds to this pressure. The increased variation in rainfall and rising temperatures lead to greater evaporation and transpiration by vegetation,” the report added.

Stating that investments in water and sanitation services result in substantial economic gains, the report said an estimated $53 billion a year over a five-year period—a small sum given this represented less than 0.1% of the 2010 global GDP—would be required to achieve universal coverage of water and sanitation services.

“There is already international consensus that water and sanitation are essential to the achievement of many sustainable development goals. They are inextricably linked to climate change, agriculture, food security, health, energy, equality, gender and education. Now, we must look forward to measurability, monitoring and implementation,” said Michel Jarraud, chair of UN Water.

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