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UN Report Highlights Global Water Crisis Threatening World Peace

Conflicts around the world are becoming more intense due to tensions over water, according to the United Nations World Water Development Report 2024.

Saurabh Shukla
UN Report Highlights Global Water Crisis Threatening World Peace (Photo Source: Pixabay)
UN Report Highlights Global Water Crisis Threatening World Peace (Photo Source: Pixabay)

A new report published by UNESCO, on behalf of UN-Water, today on 22 March 2024, has underscored the alarming reality that a significant portion of the world's population still lacks access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Despite international efforts, the goal of ensuring universal access to these basic necessities by 2030 remains elusive, with 2.2 billion people deprived of safely managed drinking water and 3.5 billion lacking access to proper sanitation facilities.

The report reveals that between 2002 and 2021, droughts have affected over 1.4 billion individuals worldwide. Furthermore, approximately half of the global population has experienced severe water scarcity at some point, with a quarter facing extreme levels of water stress, utilizing over 80% of their annual renewable freshwater supply. Climate change exacerbates these challenges, with projections indicating an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts and water-related crises, posing acute risks to social stability.

Disproportionate Impact on Women and Girls

One of the most vulnerable groups affected by water scarcity is women and girls, who often bear the brunt of collecting water, particularly in rural areas. This arduous task consumes significant time, hindering their educational opportunities, economic participation, and overall well-being. The burden of water scarcity disproportionately affects women and girls, contributing to higher secondary school dropout rates and exacerbating existing inequalities.

Migration and Conflict

Moreover, water insecurity has emerged as a significant driver of migration, exacerbating social tensions and conflicts. Displacement places additional strain on water resources in host communities, leading to heightened competition and potential conflict over access to limited water supplies. Shockingly, studies indicate a 200% increase in gender-based violence among displaced populations in regions grappling with water scarcity, such as Somalia.

Urgent Need for Transboundary Cooperation

The report emphasizes the critical importance of transboundary agreements in addressing water scarcity and preventing conflicts. While a substantial portion of the global population resides in areas governed by transboundary river and lake basins, only a fraction of countries has established agreements for joint resource management. Insufficient cooperation exacerbates tensions, particularly in regions like the Sahel, where wetland degradation fuels disputes over water and land access.

Despite these challenges, there are instances of successful cooperation in managing shared water resources. The Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin, signed by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia in 2002, stands as a model of multilateral cooperation in South-East Europe, fostering sustainable water management and regional stability. Similarly, countries bordering Lake Chad have revitalized the Lake Chad Basin Commission, expanding its mandate to promote efficient water use, coordinate development efforts, and prevent conflicts.

In light of escalating water stress and its implications for global peace and prosperity, urgent action is needed. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, underscores the imperative for swift measures to safeguard water resources and enhance regional and global cooperation. Alvaro Lario, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), highlights the pivotal role of water in agriculture and socio-economic development, emphasizing the need for equitable and sustainable water management practices.

The UNESCO report serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address the global water crisis. By prioritizing international cooperation, equitable resource management, and sustainable development practices, stakeholders can mitigate the risks associated with water scarcity, foster peace, and secure a brighter future for all.

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