“We have broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater”

The risk of a “global water crisis” is imminent, according to a report by UN-Water and UNESCO published on Tuesday. Enough to trigger a new committed and inflamed speech by the Secretary General of the United Nations who denounces human action on planetary water resources.

“We have broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater,” said Antonio Guterres at the opening of the first UN water conference in nearly half a century. “We are draining humanity of its vital substance through vampiric over-consumption and unsustainable use of water, and we are causing it to evaporate by warming the planet,” he added, worrying about the “compromised” future of water, yet “the lifeblood of humanity” and “a human right. »

Not enough water in places, too much in others where flooding is increasing, or contaminated water… “How many people will be affected by this global water crisis is a matter of scenario”, explained to AFP the main author of the UN-Water and UNESCO report, Richard Connor. “If nothing is done, between 40 and 50 percent of the population will continue to lack access to sanitation services and around 20-25 percent to safe drinking water,” he noted. And if the percentages do not change, the world’s population grows and the number of people affected with it.

A crisis that is likely to worsen with climate change

So the UN conference, the first of this magnitude since 1977 on this vital but too long ignored issue, raises a lot of hopes to try to reverse the trend and hope to guarantee by 2030 access for all to drinking water or toilets, objectives set in 2015. The participants, States, companies or representatives of civil society, were called upon to come up with concrete commitments, some already announced upstream. But already, some observers doubt their scope and the availability of the necessary funding to implement them.

“The water crisis is bad enough without climate change. But with our rapidly warming world, it’s going to be worse,” said WWF’s Stuart Orr. “We can build resilient societies and economies if governments and businesses quickly put in place policies, practices and investments that recognize, and restore, the full value of healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands.”

In a world where over the past 40 years, the use of fresh water has increased by almost 1% per year, the UN-Water report first highlights water shortages which “tend to generalize” and to worsen with the impact of global warming, soon to strike even the regions today spared in East Asia or South America.

10% of the world’s population in high or critical water stress

Thus, approximately 10% of the world’s population lives in a country where water stress has reached a high or critical level. And according to the report by UN climate experts (IPCC) published on Monday, “about half of the world’s population” suffers from “severe” water shortages for at least part of the year. A situation that also highlights inequalities. “Wherever you are, if you are rich enough, you will manage to have water”, underlined Richard Connor. “The poorer you are, the more vulnerable you are to these crises.” And women and girls “are disproportionately affected,” insisted actor Matt Damon, co-founder of the NGO Water.org, on Wednesday. “Millions of girls are out of school because they have to fetch water.”

The problem is not only the lack of water, but the contamination of what may be available, due to the absence or deficiencies of sanitation systems. At least two billion people drink water contaminated with faeces, exposing them to deadly diseases, cholera, dysentery, typhoid or polio. Not to mention pollution by pharmaceuticals, chemicals, pesticides, microplastics or nanomaterials that also affect freshwater ecosystems.

To ensure access to drinking water for all by 2030, current levels of investment should be multiplied by at least three, estimates UN-Water. “Everything we need to live a decent life is directly linked to water, our health, food, habitats, economy, infrastructure and climate,” King Willem-Alexander of the Countries insisted on Wednesday. -Bas, co-chair of the conference with the President of Tajikistan. “Now is the time to overcome partial sectoral interests, look at the big picture and move forward.”

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