5,000 million people will face problems in accessing fresh water by 2050

The latest report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned about the availability of fresh water on the planet. According to their figures, more than 5,000 million people will have problems with access to water in 2050.

The report is the first that the WMO dedicates specifically to global water resources to assess the effects of climate change. The objective of this inventory is to support the monitoring and management of the world’s freshwater resources in an era of increasing demand and limited supplies.

World water resources report

The report on the state of world water resources in 2021, published today, analyzes the effects that the increase in temperatures is having on the masses of fresh water on the planet. Global temperatures are now 1.1°C higher than in pre-industrial times, and last year was one of the seven warmest on record.

“The impacts of climate change are often felt through water: more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. All of these events have “cascading effects on economies, ecosystems, and all aspects of our daily lives.”

About three-quarters of all-natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 were related to water, according to UN-Water, which coordinates the United Nations’ work on water and sanitation. At the same time, 3.6 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, face inadequate access to water for at least one month each year, and that number is expected to rise to more than 5 billion by mid-century.

The report assesses the impact of climate, environmental and social change on water resources so that they can be better managed in the face of increasing demand.

Water problems by 2050

Currently, 3.6 billion people face inadequate access to water for at least one month of the year and this is expected to rise to more than 5 billion by 2050. Between 2001 and 2018, UN-Water reported that 74% of all disasters natural were related to water. The recent UN climate change conference, COP27, urged governments to further integrate water into adaptation efforts, the first time water has been referenced in a COP outcome document in recognition of its critical importance.

The report highlights the lack of accessible verified hydrological data. The WMO Unified Data Policy seeks to accelerate the availability and sharing of hydrological data, including information on transboundary river and river basin discharges.

Devastating floods

The WMO report analyzed the river flow in various basins of the world and compared it with the average of the hydrological period of the last 30 years.

The land area with below-average river flow was twice as large as the area above the average, the WMO noted by way of summary.

In detail, among the driest areas recently, the report highlighted “the area of ​​the Río de la Plata in South America, where a persistent drought has affected the region since 2019, the south and southeast of the Amazon, and some basins of North America, for example, those of the Colorado, Missouri and Mississippi rivers”.

Instead, “higher-than-normal river flows were observed in some basins in North America, northern Amazonia, and southern Africa (Zambezi and Orange), as well as in China (the Amur River basin) and northern India”.

As for terrestrial water storage -that is, the water found on the Earth’s surface and subsurface-, the negative trends were stronger than the positive ones.

Storage was below the 20-year average on the US West Coast, central South America, and Patagonia, among other regions. On the other hand, it was higher than normal in the Amazon basin, central Africa and northern China. “Some of the hotspots are exacerbated by over-drafting of groundwater for irrigation purposes. Snow and ice melting also has a significant impact in several areas including Alaska, Patagonia and the Himalayas”.

The importance of the cryosphere

The largest reserves of fresh water in the world are found in the cryosphere, that is, where there is ice and snow, in glaciers, polar caps or permafrost.

The ice from the mountains feeds the rivers and is a source of freshwater supply for 1.9 billion people, estimates the WMO, in such a way that its melting affects “food security, human health and the integrity and maintenance of the ecosystems”.

For this reason, the UN agency urged the authorities to speed up the introduction of early warning plans to prevent droughts and floods, and lessen the impact of these extreme events.

Some of the most relevant water impacts of 202:

Dying glaciers

Melting of glaciers accelerated globally in 2021. Ice masses in western Canada and the United States, and in central Europe experienced the most significant losses in the past four decades, the WMO report shows.

widening lakes

Also known to glaciologists as the “Third Pole,” the Tibetan Plateau is home to the largest freshwater reservoir outside the polar regions. Higher temperatures are accelerating melting ice, shrinking glaciers and sometimes triggering flash floods. Large amounts of water end up in mountain lakes that are growing as a result.

Extreme drought

The water deficit that Iran, Iraq and Syria experienced in 2020 was intensified by a warm winter that continued into 2021. That meant lakes and reservoirs were not replenished before the hot summer months. The resulting drought affected up to 12 million people in Iraq and Syria, and 4.8 million in Iran, sparking deadly clashes in Khuzestan province.

Deadly floods

Changing weather patterns have caused unprecedented amounts of water to fall in very short periods, resulting in devastating flooding. In 2021, floods in Western Europe killed 219 people and caused up to €46 billion worth of damage.

Turkey, Afghanistan, India and China’s Henan province were also affected by flooding that killed more than 1,500 people. It was a stark reminder that the effects of climate change are felt everywhere.

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