California Drought

About half of the world’s population will suffer from water insecurity by 2050, found The State of Climate Services 2021: Water , a new report from the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The report said:

More than 2 billion people are living in countries under water stress and 3.6 billion people face inadequate access to water at least one month per year. Meanwhile, water-related hazards have increased in frequency for the past 20 years. Since 2000, flood-related disasters have increased by 134%, most deaths and economic losses occurred in Asia, where warning systems require strengthening, the number and duration of droughts also increased by 29%, and most deaths were in Africa, again indicating the need for stronger warning systems.

This latest WMO report, published Tuesday, explores the progress made by WMO Members in using climate services to address water-related challenges and highlights the gaps in user engagement, forecasting, observing networks, and data collection that still exist.

The warning comes as floods, droughts and other water-related hazards increase due to climate change, while the number of people experiencing “water stress” continues to rise amid population growth and dwindling availability.

The report said:

  • In 2018, some 3.6 billion people globally had inadequate access to water for one month per year, which is expected to surpass five billion by 2050.
  • In 2020, more than 20% of the world’s river basins had experienced either rapid increases in their surface water area indicative of flooding, a growth in reservoirs and newly inundated land; or rapid declines in surface water area indicating drying up of lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, floodplains and seasonal water bodies. Rapid changes in surface water extent and availability are contributing to elevated disaster risks and potentially negatively affecting water-dependent sectors, e.g. agriculture, energy. More than 80% of wetlands are estimated to have been lost since the pre-industrial era. Despite an average of 58% of countries’ transboundary basin areas having an operational arrangement for water cooperation, only 24 countries reported that all their transboundary basins are covered by such.
  • Globally, 56% of household wastewater flows was safely treated in 2020, with regional values ranging from 25 to 80%, indicating that progress remains uneven across the globe. Data from 42 countries reporting on the generation and treatment of total wastewater flows indicate that less than a third received at least some treatment in 2015. The situation is similar for industrial wastewater flows, although here data are only available for 14 countries. In all world regions, and in low-, medium- and high-income countries alike, many water bodies were still in good condition; in 2020, 60% of water bodies assessed in 89 countries had good ambient water quality. However, water quality data are not collected routinely in a majority of countries; especially lower income countries rely on relatively few measurements from relatively few water bodies and lack suitable environmental water quality standards. Therefore global status and trends cannot be completely assessed.

“Increasing temperatures are resulting in global and regional precipitation changes, leading to shifts in rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, with a major impact on food security and human health and well-being,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO Secretary-General.

Water-related disasters have increased in frequency since the year 2000, according to the report, which was coordinated by WMO and includes input from more than 20 international organizations, development agencies and scientific institutions.

Taalas recalled that over the past year, extreme rainfall across the continent caused massive flooding in Japan, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and India.  Millions were displaced and hundreds were killed.

“But it is not just in the developing world that flooding has led to major disruption,” he said. “Catastrophic flooding in Europe led to hundreds of deaths and widespread damage.”

“Lack of water continues to be a major cause of concern for many nations, especially in Africa. More than two billion people live in water-stressed countries and suffer lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation,” said Taalas, adding, “we need to wake up to the looming water crisis.”

Invest and improve

The report calls for improving water management, integrating water and climate policies, and scaling up investment as current measures are fragmented and inadequate.

Recommendations include investing in integrated resources water management to better manage water stress, especially in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Authorities in the LDCs are particularly urged to invest in early warning systems for droughts and floods.

Countries are also encouraged to fill gaps related to data collection critical to climate services and early warning systems, and to join the Water and Climate Coalition, a WMO initiative that provides support, including in improving assessment of water resources.

The report said:

Assuming a constant population, an additional 8% of the world’s population in the 2000s will be exposed to new or aggravated water scarcity associated with a 2°C of global warming. Concurrent population growth would further increase this number.

Good News

The report said:

The good news is that nations are determined to improve the situation. According to UNFCCC, water is an adaptation priority in 79% of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement. And not only is water among the highest priority sectors across all NDCs, it is a cross-cutting factor affecting adaptation in the majority of sectors.

The WMO assessment in this report found, for WMO Member countries (101) for which data are available, that:

  • There is inadequate interaction among climate services providers and information users in 43% of WMO Members.
  • Data is not collected for basic hydrological variables in approximately 40% of WMO Members.
  • Hydrological data is not made available in 67% of WMO Members.
  • End-to-end riverine flood forecasting and warning systems are absent or inadequate in 34% of WMO Members that provided data – with only 44% of Members’ existing systems reaching more than two-thirds of the population at risk.
  • End-to-end drought forecasting and warning systems are lacking or inadequate in 54% of WMO Members that provided data – with only 27% of Members’ existing systems reaching more than two-thirds of the population at risk.

The report said:

Several constraints limit countries’ capacity to access financing, including low capacities for developing and implementing projects, and difficulties to absorb resources within low-income countries’ public financial systems. Despite a 9% increase in financial pledges made to tackle SDG 6, official development assistance (ODA) commitments remained stable at US$ 8.8 billion, despite increased funding needs to meet targets under the SDG6 – between 2015 and 2019.

The report made six strategic recommendations to improve the implementation and effectiveness of climate services for water worldwide:

  1. Invest in Integrated Resources Water Management as a solution to better manage water stress, especially in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
  2. Invest in end-to-end drought and flood early warning systems in at-risk LDCs, including for drought warning in Africa and flood warning in Asia.
  3. Fill the capacity gap in collecting data for basic hydrological variables which underpin climate services and early warning systems.
  4. Improve the interaction among national level stakeholders to co-develop and operationalize climate services with information users to better support adaptation in the water sector. There is also a pressing need for better monitoring and evaluation of socio-economic benefits, which will help to showcase best practices.
  5. Fill the gaps in data on country capacities for climate services in the water sector, especially for SIDS.
  6. Join the Water and Climate Coalition to promote policy development for integrated water and climate assessments, solutions and services, and benefit from a network of partners that develop and implement tangible, practical projects, programs and systems to improve hydroclimate services for resilience and adaptation.


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