Almost half of the global population could suffer severe water stress by 2030 if current levels of water consumption and pollution are not immediately addressed.
This is the damning conclusion from a new report published by the International Resource Panel (IRP), entitled Policy Options for Decoupling Economic Growth from Water Use and Water Pollution. Specifically, a combination of continued global population growth, increased urbanization, climate change, and a shift in food consumption, are all likely to impact and increase the future demand of water.
The IRP report points out that current trends unaltered will see water demand exceed supply by 40% in 2030. Accordingly, governments would be forced to spend $200 billion per year on upstream water supply, up from the historic average of $40 to $45 billion.
“Reliable access to clean water is a cornerstone of sustainable development,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“When clean water is consistently unavailable, the world’s poorest must spend much of their disposable income buying it, or a large amount of time transporting it, which limits development. And since only half of one per cent of the world’s freshwater is available for the needs of both humanity and ecosystems, we will need to do more and better with less if we are to ensure healthy ecosystems, healthy populations and economic development.”
The authors of the report conclude that if the world is to stave off such a drastic outcome, efforts to decouple water use from economic growth will need to be strengthened. This has already shown to be possible in some countries, such as Australia, which saw water consumption decline by 40% between 2001 and 2009 at the same time as the economy grew by 30%.
Specifically, to achieve water decoupling, the IRP recommends:
- Investing more in research and development to improve technology that reduces water waste
- Building sustainable infrastructure to improve the efficiency of water use and eliminate water contamination and pollution
- Introducing policies to curb water demand and re-allocate water to sectors where it produces goods and services most beneficial to society while ensuring vulnerable groups are protected
- Strengthening research into the value of ecosystem services and water to human welfare and economic development
- Doing more to assess “virtual water” (the water used to manufacture goods that are traded internationally), water footprints and related impacts to better understand how international trade patterns could be used to support decoupling where it is most needed
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