On the eve of the first major U.N. water conference in over 45 years, 26% of the world’s population lacks access to safe drinking water and 46% lack basic sanitation. According to the UN World Water Development Report 2023, there is a huge gap that needs to be filled in order to achieve universal access to clean water and sanitation by 2030.
Richard Connor, editor-in-chief of the report, told a news conference that the estimated cost of meeting the goals is somewhere between $600 billion and $1 trillion a year, according to the AP. Forging partnerships with investors, financiers, governments, and climate change communities is equally important, according to Connor, so that money is invested in ways to sustain the environment and provide clean water and sanitation to the 2 billion without it and 3.6 million without it.
The report finds that global water use has increased by roughly 1% per year over the last 40 years “and is expected to grow at a similar rate through 2050, driven by population growth, socioeconomic development, and changing consumption patterns.”
The real increase in demand is occurring in developing countries and emerging economies as a result of industrial growth and especially rapid urbanization. These urban areas are experiencing “a real big increase in demand,” he noted. In some countries that now use drip irrigation, which saves water, 70% of all water is used by agriculture, Connor said. “That makes water available to cities,” he said.
“Seasonal water scarcity will worsen in areas where water is already scarce, such as the Middle East and Sahara, and increase in regions where it is currently abundant, including Central Africa, East Asia and parts of South America.” Approximately 10% of the world’s population lives in countries with water stress, and 3.5 billion people experience water stress at least once a year, according to a report released by UNESCO.
According to the report, floods in the tropics have quadrupled since 2000, while floods in the north mid-latitudes have doubled. Climate change is expected to increase droughts and “heat extremes” in most regions as a direct result of droughts, the report said. Water pollution comes primarily from untreated wastewater, according to Connor. “Globally, 80 percent of wastewater is released without treatment, and in many developing countries it’s almost 99%.”
In addition to protecting aquatic ecosystems, improving water resource management, increasing water reuse, and promoting cooperation across borders, the three-day UN water conference co-chaired by Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon begins Wednesday morning. Over 20 organizations and 171 countries are on the speakers list, including over 100 ministers. There will also be five “interactive dialogues” and dozens of side events.