The global water crisis: UN warns of vampiric water overconsumption

Water security conference calls for action to address unsustainable use of water resources or water overconsumption. The United Nations recently held its first water security conference in nearly fifty years, emphasizing the importance of managing one of humanity’s most precious resources.

According to the U.N., a quarter of the world’s population still lacks access to safe drinking water, while half of the global population lacks basic sanitation. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of recent disasters are water-related.

Vampiric water overconsumption and unsustainable use

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described humanity’s use of water as “vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use,” leading to the rapid depletion of this vital resource.

The growing impact of climate change, coupled with unsustainable use practices, has contributed to the global water crisis, with many countries struggling to meet their citizens’ water needs. The U.N. has set a 17-point agenda for sustainable development, with access to clean water and sanitation among the priorities.

The Water Action Agenda: Creating political momentum

The three-day conference held in New York aimed to create a “Water Action Agenda,” with voluntary commitments from governments and stakeholders to address the water crisis.

While the conference did not produce a binding accord like the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the goal was to create political momentum for change.

The U.S. committed to investing $49 billion in water and sanitation programs to create jobs, safeguard public health, prevent conflicts, reduce hunger, and respond to climate change and natural disasters.

Global commitments and shortfalls that led to water overconsumption

The U.N. received hundreds of action plans before the conference. But the World Resources Institute (WRI) noted that many of these commitments lacked performance targets, and funding, or failed to address climate change.

However, WRI praised two initiatives: one committed $21.2 million to climate-smart agriculture and wetland restoration in the desertifying Niger River basin and another from 1,729 companies calculated water-related investments worth $436 billion.

Recommendations from the Global Commission on the Economics of Water

The Netherlands government convened the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, comprised of scientists, economists, and policy experts, to explore solutions to the water crisis.

The commission recommended phasing out $700 billion in agricultural and water subsidies and facilitating partnerships between development finance institutions and private investors to improve water systems.

What needs to be done, needs to be done

The global water crisis demands urgent action to address the unsustainable use and depletion of water resources.

The U.N.’s Water Action Agenda aims to create political momentum for change and voluntary commitments from governments and stakeholders. While the commitments received are a step in the right direction, there are more tasks for addressing funding, performance targets, and climate change mitigation.

The Global Commission on the Economics of Water offers recommendations to phase out subsidies and establish partnerships to improve water systems. Urgent action is necessary for ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all, safeguarding public health, and mitigate the impact of climate change and natural disasters.