As the perils of climate change increasingly threaten the planet, the international community must unite in “a spirit of urgent cooperation” to address the many water-related challenges facing humanity, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared on Sunday.
In his message marking the 2015 edition of World Water Day, observed annually on 22 March, the Secretary-General warned that access to safe drinking water and sanitation was among “the most urgent issues” affecting populations across the globe.
“The onset of climate change, growing demand on finite water resources from agriculture, industry and cities, and increasing pollution in many areas are hastening a water crisis that can only be addressed by cross-sectoral, holistic planning and policies – internationally, regionally and globally,” Mr. Ban affirmed.
Despite progress under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), some 750 million people, or more than 1 in 10 of the world's population, remain without access to an improved water supply, the UN has reported.
Mr. Ban added that women and children are particularly affected, compromising their overall health and exposing them to numerous hazards during the “unproductive and sometimes dangerous business of collecting water.”
Moreover, the statistics on sanitation remain “even less encouraging” as some 2.5 billion people around the world still live without improved sanitation while another one billion practice open defecation.
In his message, the Secretary-General also warned that the gains made by the international community in working towards a sustainable future were “jeopardized” by climate change – an imminent threat that Member States were prepared to tackle head-on in December when they gather in Paris to draft “a meaningful, universal climate agreement.”
“To address the many challenges related to water, we must work in a spirit of urgent cooperation, open to new ideas and innovation, and prepared to share the solutions that we all need for a sustainable future,” Mr. Ban stated. “If we do so, we can end poverty, promote global prosperity and well-being, protect the environment and withstand the threat of climate change.”
The dire straits facing the world's water situation were further amplified in the UN's 2015 World Water Development report, released by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and in time for today's World Water Day celebrations.
According to the report, the planet will face a 40 per cent shortfall in water supply in 2030 unless the international community “dramatically” improves water supply management. Demand for water is slated to skyrocket 55 per cent by 2050 while 20 per cent of global groundwater is already overexploited.
As a result, the report has urged the international community to devote an entire sustainable development goal to water itself – from issues of water governance and quality to wastewater management and the prevention of natural disasters.
Sanjay Wijesekera, head of the UN Children Fund's (UNICEF) global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene programs, similarly cautioned about the dangerous disparities in water access around the globe, noting that despite “tremendous progress in the face of incredible odds,” there was still more to do.
“Water is the very essence of life and yet three-quarters of a billion people – mostly the poor and the marginalized – still today are deprived of this most basic human right,” Mr. Wijesekera said in a press release.
On average, nearly 1,000 children die every day from diarrheal disease linked to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, or poor hygiene. In addition, in three countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Papua New Guinea – more than half the population do not have improved drinking water.
In an effort to raise greater awareness about the importance of improving water quality and access, UNICEF has launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #wateris, the agency's press release added.
Also marking the Day, the Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation, Léo Heller, called for the UN's post-2015 development agenda to boost incentives for governments, providers and donors to expand their reach to those still struggling with water access.
“We need to aim for a higher rate of progress for disadvantaged groups, otherwise we will not achieve access for all in the foreseeable future,” Mr. Heller stated. “The world will see real achievement and 'leave no one behind' only when the efforts of the post-2015 agenda reach and impact the lives of the most disadvantaged groups.”