GENEVA — Nations must prepare better for a world of increasing floods, droughts and other water-related disasters along with a growing lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation that will affect 5 billion people by 2050, the U.N. weather agency reported on Tuesday.
The World Meteorological Organization said water-related hazards are on the rise due to climate change, yet most nations’ water management systems are “fragmented and inadequate” to monitor, forecast and warn people against the risks. Its report found 3.6 billion people had inadequate access to water at least one month per year in 2018, and this is expected to rise to more than 5 billion people by mid-century.
“Increasing temperatures are resulting in global and regional precipitation changes, leading to shifts in rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, with a major impact on food security and human health and well-being,” said WMO’s secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, a Finnish meteorologist. “We need to wake up to the looming water crisis.”
Flood-related disasters increased 134 percent from 2000 to 2020 compared to the previous two decades, the agency reported, while total surface water, ground water and other water stored in the ground through ice, snow and soil fell by 1 centimeter a year. The biggest losses were in Antarctica and Greenland.
Just 0.5 percent of all water on the planet is freshwater that is available and useable, according to WMO. Water shortages already affect 25 percent of all cities.
WMO officials recommended more international coordination and better warning systems against river flooding and droughts. Drought caused the most deaths in Africa, while it led to the most economic losses in Asia, the Caribbean and North America.
“Lack of water continues to be a major cause of concern for many nations, especially in Africa,” Taalas said. “More than 2 billion people live in water-stressed countries and suffer lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation.”