ISLAMABAD: A United Nations report released on Wednesday said water scarcity is becoming endemic as a result of the local impact of physical water stress, coupled with the acceleration and spreading of freshwater pollution.

Released to coincide with World Water Day being observed on Thurs­day, the ‘World Water Development Report 2023’ said that as a result of climate change, seasonal water scarcity will increase in regions where water is currently abundant and worsen in regions where water is already in short supply.

On average, 10 per cent of the global population lives in countries with high or critical water stress, the report said, adding that water use has been increasing globally by roughly one per cent per year over the last 40 years and is expected to grow at a similar rate through to 2050, driven by a combination of population growth, socio-economic development and changing consumption patterns. The bulk of this increase is concentrated in middle- and lower-income countries, particularly in emerging economies, it said.

Low-, middle- and high-income countries all show signs of risks related to water quality. Poor ambient water quality in low-income countries is often related to low levels of wastewater treatment, whereas in higher-income countries runoff from agriculture is a more serious problem. However, water quality data remains sparse, due in large part to weak monitoring and reporting capacity. This is especially true in many of the least developed countries in Asia and Africa.

Report says 10pc of global population lives in states with high or critical water stress

According to the latest figures from 2020, 26pc of the world’s population (two billion people) did not have access to safely managed drinking water services, and an estimated 46pc (3.6bn) lacked access to safely managed sanitation.

Approximately 60pc of the world’s reported water bodies were categorised as having ‘good’ ambient water quality. However, the poorest 20 countries are grossly underrepresented in this global estimate, report said.

Official development assistance (ODA) committed and disbursed to ‘water’ in 2020 was estimated at $8.7bn globally, up from $2.7bn in 2002. However, international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes had not yet been specifically reported at the time of the report’s production.

While urban water demand is projected to increase by 80 per cent by 2050, water allocation from agriculture to urban centres has become a common strategy to meet freshwater needs in growing cities. The reallocation of water from agriculture has been generally successful in terms of meeting the demands of growing cities.

The water-energy-food-ecosystem (WEFE) nexus provides a systematic approach to understanding their interconnectedness and trade-offs. The approach integrates across all sectors and provides a holistic vision of sustainability that seeks to balance the different goals, interests and needs of people and the environment. New health risks are emerging from exposure to ‘contaminants of emerging concern’ in water, such as pharmaceuticals, industrial and household chemicals, personal care products, pesticides, and manufactured nanomaterials. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) play an essential role in preventing neg­lected tropical diseases that are close to elimination from bouncing back.

The coordination of climate and water agendas is bidirectional. While climate policymakers need to better understand the needs of the water community to adapt to climate change, as well as the role that water resources management and supply and sanitation can play in mitigation, water policymakers need to proactively reach out to climate stakeholders to better understand how climate-led processes work, and to integrate water-related climate risks into national water policies, strategies and implementation plans, the report said.

As both water and climate change know no borders, joint adaptation to climate change and cooperation across administrative boundaries (in domestic or transboundary) river basins and aquifers represent two great opportunities for cross-sector and cross-country collaboration in order to enable the sharing of the costs and benefits of adaptation measures, to ensure their optimal location in a river basin, and to avoid the possible negative effects of unilateral adaptation or management measures.

In Asia and the Pacific region, the rep­ort said, there is a need to strengthen existing partnerships and networks, to enhance existing platforms for better stakeholder engagement at all levels, and to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are included in water governance. Parti­cipative governance approaches at subnational and national levels, across multiple government agencies, would support the mainstreaming and financing of water management and expedite progress across other water-dependent sectors.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2023

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