UN agency warns of looming global water crisis

Climate change is poised to result in a worldwide water crisis, and international institutions and governments have not done enough to prepare, according to a report released Tuesday by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The report determined that as of 2018, some 3.6 billion people did not have sufficient access to water at least one month every year. This number will surpass 5 billion by 2050, according to the report.

Much of the crisis can be attributed to the rapid reduction of terrestrial water, which includes ice and snowpack. Terrestrial storage has fallen at an annual rate of one centimeter, with much of the loss occurring in Antarctica and Greenland.

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Risks have grown beyond water storage loss, according to the research. Flooding-related disasters have spiked by 134 percent in the past two decades, with Asia seeing the biggest death tolls and economic losses. Droughts, meanwhile, increased by 29 percent since the beginning of the century, with the bulk of drought-related deaths occurring in Africa.

“This past year has seen a continuation of extreme, water-related events. Across Asia, extreme rainfall caused massive flooding in Japan, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and India,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “Millions of people were displaced, and hundreds were killed. But it is not just in the developing world that flooding has led to major disruption. Catastrophic flooding in Europe led to hundreds of deaths and widespread damage.”

The analysis found a total of 107 countries behind schedule on the United Nations’ goals for sustainable management of water and sanitation. Over 2 billion people live in countries that do not have proper access to safe drinking water, according to the WMO. Seventy-five countries have below-average water efficiency levels, and current progress on water efficiency would need to quadruple to reach global targets by the end of the decade.

The WMO noted that, at least on paper, international governments are planning solutions. Water and food are the two top priorities for countries’ nationally determined contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement.

The report follows a summer that, in the U.S. alone, laid bare the threat of climate change to water supply and infrastructure. Lake Mead and the Colorado River saw their first-ever federal water shortage declaration in August, two months after its water levels hit an all-time low.