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Women collect water in Somalia, where millions are affected by severe drought

Giles Clarke for The New York Times via Getty Images

A major UN report has found that almost 2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water.

Several factors are to blame, says Richard Connor At the United Nations, lead author of the report. He says growing urban populations, expanding agriculture, a lack of wastewater treatment infrastructure and climate change all play a role.

To be published as United Nations World Water Development Report First major UN conference on water since 1977 Running in New York.

It is intended as an update on progress towards ensuring that everyone in the world has access to safe drinking water by 2030 – one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals set in 2015.

This goal has been seriously derailed, says Connor. “Achieving universal coverage by 2030 would require quadrupling current rates of progress in the provision of water and supply services.”

The report finds that global demand for water has grown by 1 percent each year for the past 40 years and will continue to grow at the same rate for the next 30 years. “This growth in demand is concentrated in emerging economies and low-income countries,” says Connor. In particular, the demand for urban water is projected to increase by 80 percent by 2050.

This increase in demand has not been kept up with the provision of adequate wastewater-treatment infrastructure, the report found. It says that 80 percent of the world’s wastewater goes back into the environment without being treated or reused. As a result, at least 2 billion people use a source of drinking water that is contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of various diseases such as cholera.

Climate change is likely to make access to clean water around the world even more difficult, says Connor. He says that seasonal water scarcity will become more common in parts of the world that currently do not experience such issues and more severe in areas where it is already a major problem.

The global urban population facing water scarcity is projected to increase from 933 million people in 2016 to 2.4 billion people in 2050, with India projected to be the most affected country.

The report also found that 46 percent of the world’s population, which makes up 3.6 billion people, does not have access to a toilet or toilet that safely disposes of human waste. Connor says that the lack of access to water and sanitation around the world comes down to insufficient political will and priority-setting.

“Water is seen more as a social or environmental issue and therefore does not receive the same political attention because it is not seen as a driver of the economy,” he says.

Connor says he hopes this year’s UN water conference will lead to the development of more realistic goals around water. “Instead of going to the moon and saying that every single person on Earth should have access to all these services, I want to look at something more realistic and make it a binding agreement that states are responsible for fulfilling. “

“We are clearly not on track,” says Claire Seaward on WaterAid. “What is clear is a huge shift in ambition and approach is needed.”

“There is no magic bullet. What is really needed is that we all come together to strengthen the entire water and sanitation system,” she says.

It is unlikely that we will have clean water for all even by 2050 Greg Pierce at the University of California, Los Angeles. “While this is already a focus, doubling down on institutional and governance reforms could lead to much greater progress than what we have seen to date.”


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