Quantcast

5 Billion People Could Have Poor Access to Water by 2050, UN Warns

Climate
Modern Event Preparedness / Flickr

As the world's population grows and the planet warms, demand for water will rise but the quality and reliability of the supply is expected to deteriorate, the United Nations said Monday in this year's World Water Development Report.

"We need new solutions in managing water resources so as to meet emerging challenges to water security caused by population growth and climate change," said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in a statement. "If we do nothing, some five billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050."


According to the report, presented Monday at the 8th World Water Forum in Brazil, global water use has increased by a factor of six in the past 100 years and has been increasing about 1 percent per year due to population growth.

Today, an estimated 3.6 billion people—nearly half the global population—already live in areas that are potentially water-scarce at least one month per year, and could increase to some 4.8 to 5.7 billion by 2050. The growing demand for water will mostly occur in countries with developing or emerging economies. Agriculture will remain the biggest water user, although industrial and domestic demand will put an increasing strain on water supplies.

The 2018 UN World Water Development Report

Additionally, the report warns that climate change is causing drier regions to become even drier.

"The population currently affected by land degradation/desertification and drought is estimated at 1.8 billion people, making this the most significant category of 'natural disaster' based on mortality and socio-economic impact relative to gross domestic product (GDP) per capita," it says.

Global water quality is also at risk from chemical pollution and nutrient loading, which, depending on the region, is often associated with pathogen loading, the report notes. Low- and lower-middle income countries have the greatest exposure risk to contaminated water partly due to a lack of wastewater management systems.

While the predictions sound grim, the report proposes nature-based solutions (NBS) to better manage global freshwater supplies. It recommends more investment in protecting ecosystems that recycle water, such as wetlands and vegetation, and spending less on concrete flood barriers or wastewater treatment plants.

"Green infrastructure" can help reduce pressures on land use, all while limiting pollution, soil erosion and water requirements, the report says. Agricultural production could be increased by an estimated 20 percent worldwide if greener water management practices were used, it found.

Green solutions, from vegetated walls and rooftop gardens, also have great potential to capture and filter water in urban areas. Other measures of recycling and harvesting water include water retention hollows to recharge groundwater, and the protection of watersheds that supply urban areas. New York City, for instance, has protected its three biggest watersheds since the late 1990s, bringing savings of more than $300 million per year on water treatment and maintenance costs, the report highlights.

The 2018 UN World Water Development Report

"For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or 'grey,' infrastructure to improve water management. In so doing, it has often brushed aside traditional and Indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches," wrote Gilbert Houngbo, chair of UN-Water and president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development in the report's foreword.

"It is time for us to re-examine nature-based solutions (NBS) to help achieve water management objectives," he added.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

Read More Show Less
Kokia drynarioides, commonly known as Hawaiian tree cotton, is a critically endangered species of flowering plant that is endemic to the Big Island of Hawaii. David Eickhoff / Wikipedia

By Lorraine Chow

Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
A couple works in their organic garden. kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristin Ohlson

From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A competitor in action during the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland on April 9, 2001. Michael Steele / Allsport / Getty Images

Greenland is open for business, but it's not for sale, Greenland's foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters after hearing that President Donald Trump asked his advisers about the feasibility of buying the world's largest island.

Read More Show Less
AFP / Getty Images / S. Platt

Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.

Read More Show Less
Newly established oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong

Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.

It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."

Read More Show Less