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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Global water shortages looming—what can be done about them

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Part 1

Spanish officials declare a state of emergency due to drought. Unprecedented water shortages hammer Mexico City. Severely parched Zambia warns of a national disaster.

These are just some of the water-related headlines from the past few weeks.

They are all symptoms of a world facing what experts call a water crisis. At least 50 percent of the planet’s population–4 billion people–deal with water shortfalls at least one month of the year. By 2025, 1.8 billion people are likely to face what the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls “absolute water scarcity.”

In the face of that, the United Nations Environment Assembly passed a resolution earlier this month that calls for countries to better manage aquatic ecosystems and strengthen their collaboration around water to support sustainable development. Drought resilience will also be a focus of World Environment Day 2024, hosted by Saudi Arabia.

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“Solutions are within reach,” says Leticia Carvalho, principal coordinator of the Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems Branch at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “But we need innovative thinking, greater political commitment and collaboration, and increased financing so that when it comes to water, no one is left behind.”

World Water Day on March 22 will spotlight the global water crisis, which is being driven by a combination of factors, from climate change to leaky pipes. Here is a look at seven things countries and individuals can do to stem water shortfalls.

1. Protect and restore

The ecosystems that supply humanity with fresh water are disappearing at an alarming rate. Wetlands, peatlands, forested catchment areas, lakes, rivers and groundwater aquifers are falling victim to climate change, overexploitation and pollution. This is undermining their ability to provide communities with water. These natural spaces urgently need to be protected and those that have been degraded, revived through large-scale restoration. Countries would be well served to develop specific, measurable targets for this work. Nations would ideally weave those goals into national plans to counter climate change, protect biodiversity and avoid drought and desertification. This work is especially important for securing water supplies for cities, many of which are suffering from water shortages. (To be continued)

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