Quarter of the world lacks clean drinking water as leaders gather to discuss future shortages

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Quarter of the world lacks clean drinking water as leaders gather to discuss future shortages

A quarter of the world goes without safe drinking water, while nearly half of people don’t have access to basic sanitation . The findings were published in a new report to mark World Water Day on Wednesday, and as leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York to hash out one of the world’s most fundamental problems for the first time in nearly half a century. Almost half the world’s people will suffer severe water stress by 2030. The UN has set a goal of making sure all people have access to clean water and sanitation by the end of this decade. More than 800,000 people die every year from diseases directly linked to unsafe water.

Children are particularly vulnerable. More than 700 children under five die each day from diarrhea linked to unsafe water, sanitation and poor hygiene, UNICEF reports , and almost half of schools around the world do not have handwashing facilities with soap and water. The estimated cost of providing clean water and sanitation will be $600bn to $1 trillion annually, according to Richard Connor, editor of the report. But action cannot come soon enough as global water use is rising at a rate of 1 per cent per year in parallel with increasing environmental and climate crises. Food and water insecurity is expected to rise as the planet warms due to emissions from burning fossil fuels, the UN’s leading climate science panel said in a report earlier this week.

More extreme droughts and floods are making life more precarious in many parts of the work but particularly poorer nations. At the same time, there is rising levels of pollution to sources of freshwater. The biggest source of pollution is untreated wastewater, Mr Connor said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Globally, 80 per cent of wastewater is released to the environment without any treatment, and in many developing countries it’s pretty much 99 per cent.” Agriculture uses an astonishing 70 per cent of all water globally, according to the new report.

It means that improving the efficiency of how crops are irrigated is a key priority to save water than be redirected back to communities. The climate crisis means that seasonal water scarcity will increase in regions where it is currently abundant like Central Africa, East Asia and parts of South America, and worsen in regions where water is already in short supply such as the Middle East and the Sahel in Africa, the report states. Almost half the global population will see their water supply under threat by 2030. “Water is the lifeblood of humanity. It is vital for survival itself and supports the health, resilience, development and prosperity of people and planet alike,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“But humanity is blindly travelling a dangerous path. Vampiric overconsumption and overdevelopment, unsustainable water use, pollution and unchecked global warming are draining humanity’s lifeblood, drop by drop.” The three-day conference is being attended by more than 171 countries and will culminate in a Water Action Agenda - dozens of voluntary commitments from across sectors of governments, businesses, and NGOs.

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