(The Herald Post) – The United Nations (UN) issued a stark warning in a report published just hours before the first major UN meeting on water resources in nearly half a century. The report highlighted the growing risk to humanity’s “lifeblood”—water—due to “vampiric overconsumption and overdevelopment.” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world is “blindly traveling a dangerous path,” with unsustainable water use, pollution, and unchecked global warming draining humanity’s essential resources.
The UN Water Conference, co-hosted by the governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands, commenced on Wednesday in New York, with over 6,500 participants, including a hundred ministers and a dozen heads of state and government. The conference aims to address the global water crisis by inviting governments and public and private sector actors to present proposals for a water action agenda. This agenda will work towards reversing current trends and meeting the development goal, set in 2015, of ensuring “access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.”
Richard Connor, the lead author of the report, informed AFP that the impact of the “world water crisis” will be a “matter of scenarios.” If no action is taken, 40-50% of the world’s population will continue to lack access to sanitation, and approximately 20-25% will not have access to a safe water supply. As the global population grows, more people will be left without access to these essential services.
The last high-level conference on this critical issue, which currently lacks a global treaty or dedicated UN agency, took place in 1977 in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Observers have expressed concerns about the commitments’ scope and the availability of funding to implement the proposed solutions.
The UN-Water and UNESCO published report warns that “scarcity is becoming endemic” due to overconsumption and pollution. Global warming will exacerbate seasonal water shortages in both water-abundant and water-scarce areas. The report states that “about 10% of the world’s population lives in a country where water stress has reached a high or critical level.” According to a recent UN climate report, roughly half of the world’s population currently experiences severe water scarcity for at least part of the year.
These shortages disproportionately impact the poor, as those with more resources can access water regardless of their location. The report also highlights the contamination of existing water supplies due to inadequate or nonexistent sanitation systems, with at least 2 billion people using drinking water sources contaminated with feces. This puts them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio, with additional risks from pollution from pharmaceuticals, chemicals, pesticides, microplastics, and nanomaterials.
To achieve the goal of universal access to safe drinking water by 2030, the report calls for a tripling of current investment levels. Furthermore, the report warns that freshwater ecosystems, which provide essential economic resources and help combat global warming, are among the most threatened in the world.
Henk Ovink, the Dutch special envoy for water, urged immediate action, stating, “We have to act now because water insecurity is undermining food security, health security, energy security or urban development, and societal issues.” As the UN Water Conference proceeds, the world’s attention turns to the proposed solutions and the collective commitment to addressing this urgent crisis.