Accessible, potable water is critical for human health, stable human societies and sustainable ecosystems – thus, water shortages have the potential to lead to political and social unrest. More than 780 million people – about 11% of the world’s population – do not have access to clean, safe water. Even more worrisome is the estimate that about half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from a water-related disease.
Water resources are under stress and increasing demand is adding further pressure, while climate change is increasing variability in the water cycle, inducing a greater number of extreme weather events, reducing the predictability of water availability and affecting water quality. In turn, this cascade of consequences threatens sustainable development, biodiversity and the enjoyment of the human right to water and sanitation worldwide.
All around the world, billions of people also feel the impacts of climate change through water. The frequency of water-related disasters is on the rise due to the increase in the intensity of natural events such as storms, high winds, heavy precipitation and dry spells. Floods, droughts, landslides, glacier lake outbursts and storm surges are impacting lives and infrastructure in coastal zones and mountain tops, in arid plains and deserts, along river banks and in floodplains. The poorest and least developed are the most vulnerable.
The World Meteorological Congress has defined eight long-term ambitions to address the water challenge before it becomes a crisis: