Water woes may hit half the world by 2050

UN warns of rising scarcity, calling lack of drinking water a global moral failure

Hoverboats on the ice on Russia's Lake Baikal early this month. The lake is one of the cleanest freshwater reservoirs, but pollution and growth of weeds are harming the micro-organisms, sponges and molluscs that filter its waters. The Baikalsk Pulp a
Hoverboats on the ice on Russia's Lake Baikal early this month. The lake is one of the cleanest freshwater reservoirs, but pollution and growth of weeds are harming the micro-organisms, sponges and molluscs that filter its waters. The Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill on the southern bank was closed seven years ago, but pollution left behind at the industrial site is draining into the lake. PHOTO: REUTERS
Hoverboats on the ice on Russia's Lake Baikal early this month. The lake is one of the cleanest freshwater reservoirs, but pollution and growth of weeds are harming the micro-organisms, sponges and molluscs that filter its waters. The Baikalsk Pulp a
The Singapore Sports Hub awash in a hue of blue last night, to commemorate World Water Day, which is today. It is among 10 new spots participating in the City Turns Blue initiative for the first time - a record 44 landmarks and buildings will be lit up in blue this year. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

NEW YORK • About four billion people experience severe water shortages for at least one month a year and around 1.6 billion people - almost a quarter of the world's population - have problems accessing a clean and safe water supply, according to the United Nations.

While the UN's Sustainable Development Goals call for water and sanitation for all by 2030, the world body says water scarcity is increasing and more than half the world's population will be living in water-stressed regions by 2050.

UN General Assembly president Volkan Bozkir said last Thursday that the lack of drinking water is a global moral failure that has devastating consequences for humanity.

"If I may be candid: It is a moral failure that we live in a world with such high levels of technical innovation and success, but we continue to allow billions of people to exist without clean drinking water or the basic tools to wash their hands," he told a high-level meeting to promote the implementation of the water-related goals and targets of the 2030 agenda.

"And make no mistake, this is a global failure that has far-reaching implications for all of us."

His comments came ahead of the UN's World Water Day today, which has been held every year since 1993.

Dr Julia Brown, a human geographer specialising in environment and development at the University of Portsmouth, said many countries with water-intensive agriculture and industry lacked adequate safe drinking water.

"When we buy products and buy food and clothing, we don't always appreciate that we're actually importing somebody else's water, and often those countries where we're importing water from, like in avocados or our denim jeans, they're actually very water-scarce countries," she told Reuters.

Dr Brown added that, while extending access to water was important, maintaining that access in some of the poorest parts of the world was often overlooked.

"Non-governmental organisations like to have their photographs taken with a shiny new hand pump... then they walk away and it's handed over to communities to raise the funds to maintain these systems, to make sure that they're repaired. And if they're not?" she said. "The research indicates, at any one time, one-third of hand pumps across sub-Saharan Africa are broken."

Mr Bozkir called on the global community to provide greater financial and capacity-building support for water-and sanitation-related activities. Engagement of stakeholders from different sectors, ranging from civil society to academia to the private sector, is also crucial, he said.

REUTERS, XINHUA

  • New participants

  • Landmarks participating in City Turns Blue initiative in Singapore for the first time:

    1. Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant

    2. Mount Faber

    3. One Marina Boulevard

    4. Orchard Gateway

    5. Read Bridge

    6. Sentosa Golf Club

    7. Science Centre Singapore

    8. Shopee Building

    9. Singapore Sports Hub

    10. Wisma Atria

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2021, with the headline Water woes may hit half the world by 2050. Subscribe