Climate change further challenges the world’s overstretched water resources, ultimately threatening all aspects of human life, according to the latest UN World Water Development Report. Most human needs revolve around water, so energy production, industrial development, food security, human and animal health and housing are also vulnerable to climate change impacts.

The report states that the reliability of available water will decrease as the climate becomes more variable, amplifying floods, droughts and other water-related problems. Places already stressed from insufficient water sources will suffer more, while places that have so far been unaffected will feel the pain, too.

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Over the last century, global water use has increased by a factor of six. Between population increase, economic development and explosive human consumption, this growth continues at about 1% per year. Groundwater depletion doubled from 1960 to 2000. Some experts predict that 40% of the world will face a water deficit by 2030.

“If we are serious about limiting global temperature increases to below 2°C and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we must act immediately,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, chair of UN Water. “There are solutions for managing water and climate in a more coordinated manner and every sector of society has a role to play. We simply cannot afford to wait.”

The UN report acknowledges that while most countries recognize water as a crucial issue, few have specific action plans about adapting policies to protect this resource. The report suggests that climate change funds be used more for adaptation and mitigation of water issues. Adaptation includes social and institutional measures, plus natural, technological and technical steps to lessen climate change-related damage. Mitigation refers to the actions humans must take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Wastewater treatment generates a high amount of emissions. Some countries — such as Peru, Mexico, Thailand and Jordan — have already harnessed the methane in untreated wastewater as biogas, which provides enough energy to run the treatment process. The UN report also mentions wetland protection, conservation agriculture techniques, reusing partially treated wastewater for industry and agriculture and fog capture as possible water management interventions.

+ UN World Water Development Report 2020

Image via Alex Hu