Water is a foundation of life and livelihoods, and is key to sustainable development. Successful water management will serve as a foundation for the achievement of many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as for SDG 6 – which is to ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’.
Despite this, water is becoming a pressing societal and geopolitical issue – in some regions, it is already of critical national concern. ‘Business as usual’ will mean the world will miss water-related SDGs by a wide margin; up to 40% of the world’s population will be living in seriously water-stressed areas by 2035; and the ability of ecosystems to provide fresh water supplies will become increasingly compromised.
60% of fresh water comes from river basins that cross national borders. Transboundary water agreements need to be robust enough to deal with increasingly uncertain environmental and climatic conditions, and the social and demographic changes that will raise global population to 9.7 billion by 2050 and double the number of people who live in urban areas.
Different conceptualisations of water can and have led to conflict. The perception of water as a human right and a common public and environmental good is often opposed by the view of water as a commodity that needs to be priced to ensure efficient and sustainable use. Not only nations but provinces and communities will need to align water perspectives to allow for peaceful and effective integrated water resource management and sustainable use.
Effective management will mean tackling neglected issues such as water wastage in current systems, which has been estimated to be up to 30%; common institutional dysfunction, unethical practices, poor accountability, and corruption in the water sectors of many countries.
This report highlights looming water crises from 6 inter-related contexts: water scarcity and insecurity, water-related disasters, water, sanitation and health (WASH) crisis, water infrastructure deterioration and destruction, unsustainable development, and ecosystem degradation.
UN agencies, governments and civil societies have made clear that radical new approaches to water are needed to reverse these sobering water trends. Only by facing these crises in an intelligent and cohesive way will water continue to support life, development and biodiversity for our children and our future.