Water is one of the essential building blocks of life. It is more than just essential to quench thirst or protect health; water is also vital for creating jobs and supporting economic, social, and human development. Today, there are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to their homes, spending countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water.
This year’s popular theme explores how we can use nature to overcome the water challenges of the 21st century. Environmental damage, together with climate change, is driving the water-related crises we see around the world. Floods, drought and water pollution are all made worse by degraded vegetation, soil, rivers and lakes. When we neglect our ecosystems, we make it harder to provide everyone with the water we need to survive and thrive.
Facts About Today’s Water Crisis
• 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services.
• By 2050, the world’s population will have grown by an estimated 2 billion people and global water demand could be up to 30% higher than today.
• Agriculture currently accounts for 70% of global water withdrawals, mostly for irrigation – a figure which rises in areas of high water stress and population density. Industry takes 20% of the total, dominated by energy and manufacturing. The remaining 10% goes to domestic use – the proportion used for drinking water is much less than 1%.
• Today, around 1.9 billion people live in potentially severely water-scarce areas. By 2050, this could increase to around 3 billion people.
• An estimated 1.8 billion people use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination from human faeces.
• Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the environment without being treated or reused.
Climate and Environment:
• The number of people at risk from floods is projected to rise from 1.2 billion today to around 1.6 billion in 2050 – nearly 20% of the world’s population.
• Today, around 1.8 billion people are affected by land degradation and desertification. At least 65% of forested land is in a degraded state.
• An estimated 64-71% of natural wetlands have been lost since 1900 as a result of human activity.
• Soil erosion from croplands carries away 25 to 40 billion tonnes of topsoil every year, significantly reducing crop yields and the soil’s ability to regulate water, carbon and nutrients. The runoff, containing large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous, is also a major contributor to water pollution.
Nature-based solutions have the potential to solve many of our water challenges. We need to do so much more with ‘green’ infrastructure and harmonize it with ‘grey’ infrastructure wherever possible. Planting new forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, and restoring wetlands will re-balance the water cycle and improve human health and livelihoods.