For the past two years, the rains have been poor in Somalia. What comes next is tragically familiar. Dry wells. Dying livestock. Failed harvests. Migration. Masses of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The same is happening in Yemen, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. However, poor rains are not the only water problem that creates havoc. Floods, water-borne diseases, and transboundary water conflicts can all cause severe human suffering and disruptions to political, economic, and environmental systems.
2016 has become the year for water. From the World Economic Forum, COP22, to the Budapest Water Summit, water has been widely acknowledged as a key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and essential to the climate change solution.
Here are the defining moments of 2016 that put water security and sustainability on the global agenda like never before:
Agriculture is both a victim and a cause of water scarcity. Water of appropriate quality and quantity is essential for the production of crops, livestock, and fisheries, as well as for the processing and preparation of these foods and products. Water is the lifeblood of ecosystems, including forests, lakes, and wetlands, on which the food and nutritional security of present and future generations depends. At the same time, agriculture is the largest water user globally, and a major source of water pollution. Unsustainable agricultural water use practices threatens the sustainability of livelihoods dependent on water and agriculture.
Additionally, climate change will have significant impacts on agriculture by increasing water demand, limiting crop productivity, and reducing water availability in areas where irrigation is most needed or has a comparative advantage. A growing number of regions will face increasing water scarcity. Climate change will bring greater variation in weather events, more frequent weather extremes, and new challenges requiring the sector to take mitigation and adaptation actions.
To many people, it is a surprise to learn that in an age of such advanced technology, at least 663 million people still lack access to basic needs, like safe drinking water, or that 2.5 billion people lack access to sanitation, such as a toilet or latrine. And while much progress has been made, receiving safe drinking water 24 hours a day, seven days a week simply by turning a tap is still a dream for many in the developing world.
Even fewer realize this is not just a problem for families, but also for those on which families rely and that also need water: the farmers who grow the families’ food, the environment that protects and sustains their homes and communities, the businesses that employ them, the cities that house them, the schools that educate their children, the clinics and hospitals that treat them, and even the power plants that generate their electricity.
Why does this challenge persist? How can this challenge be met? And an increasingly urgent question: is there enough water to go around?
Check out our collection of photos, videos and tweets of World Water Week 2016.
This blog originally appeared on The Huffington Post as part of a series, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals."
As a sector in world affairs, water is reaching a tipping point. Over the next two decades, the global push for food and energy security and for sustaining urbanization will place unprecedented demands on water.
Ours is a "thirsty" world, in which agriculture and energy compete with the needs of cities. At the same time, climate change may worsen the situation by increasing water stress and extreme-weather events. Hence, the water and climate nexus can no longer be a side event at global-climate talks. All of this is happening while the important push for universal access to water and sanitation services -- despite the impressive gains over the past several decades -- remains an unfinished agenda.
- What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals
- sustainable development goals
- World Water Week 2015
- water and energy nexus
- water and climate nexus
- thirsty agriculture
- thirsty energy
- Energy Security
- food security
- water security
- Urban Development
- Climate Change
- Agriculture and Rural Development
Just a few months ago, the World Economic Forum’s 10th Global Risk Report ranked water crises as the top global risk in terms of impact, more than the spread of infectious diseases, weapons of mass destruction or interstate conflict. With such global implications, we face a considerable challenge to develop the appropriate response. But we have also long grappled with a simple truth: water management is a complex web of local situations and issues, dictated by hydro-climatic conditions, spatial and demographic patterns, complex political economy dynamics, and technical considerations.
One increasingly pressing issue is the widening gap between the supply of water resources and the demand for water services in rapidly growing urban areas. This is exacerbated by dwindling resources in the face of climate vulnerability, and a legacy of poor governance and wasteful uses. This gap is most extreme in arid areas, which have few contingency options, and are left with few, if any, fallback options in case of further strain on the system.