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Tackling the world’s climate-driven water crisis

Although a safe supply of clean water is necessary for human survival, about 2.2 billion people around the world currently lack access to this basic human right. As the planet continues to warm due to climate change, this situation is likely to become more severe, becoming a massive global crisis. 

To tackle these pressing issues, a team of scientists from the University of Warwick’s Institute for Global Sustainable Development (IGSD) will investigate the problem of water security in the context of the Futures Climate Research Cohort Program

In this program – established by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and the British Council – leading climate change experts from five UK universities will collaborate with scientists from ten low and middle-income countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Sri Lanka, to examine their regional climate change challenges through research project in the Global South and knowledge exchange projects.

The scientists from IGSD will investigate issues such as the inequality of water security, water for ecosystems, and water-related hazards in order to better understand the uneven distribution of climate change-induced water crisis across regions, populations, and ecosystems, while empowering vulnerable groups and building resilience to risks and uncertainties.

“As we learned from the UN Water Conference on 22 March and the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, the need to unite the world for collective water research and action has never been more clear,” said project leader Feng Mao, an associate professor of Global Sustainable Development at IGSD.

“Nearly 80 percent of the global population is exposed to water security challenges, with climate change intensifying the water cycle, altering rainfall patterns, and consequently bringing more frequent and amplified hazards to human societies in many regions.”

“We will be addressing the intersections of water, ecosystems, society, and technologies – aiming to improve lives and build resilience to climate change. Being part of the Climate Research Cohort will elevate Warwick University’s position as a leading institute for environmental sustainability.”

“IGSD has been relaunched to become the gateway to research on sustainable development at Warwick, with one of its key thematics being complex eco-systems and water security,” added Elena Korosteleva, the director of IGSD.

“I am very proud to see how our strategic thinking, research and leadership are now coming together, from growing our thematic networks across Warwick, to an IGSD leading scientist, Dr Feng Mao, now representing us globally via the ACU. This is particularly opportune for our own launch of the ECR Sustainability Training School on 5-9 June 2023, which we hope will serve as a platform for raising a new generation of planet-conscious researchers and responsible citizens,” she concluded.

More about the global water crisis

The water crisis is a global issue that affects millions of people, particularly in developing countries, although water scarcity can also be found in certain regions of developed countries.

Here are some key points about the water crisis:

Water scarcity

Water scarcity is the primary driver of the water crisis. It occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available supply in a particular area. Factors contributing to water scarcity include population growth, urbanization, climate change, pollution, and inefficient water management practices.

Lack of access to clean water

Many people around the world do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. They often rely on contaminated water sources, such as rivers, ponds, or unprotected wells, which can lead to waterborne diseases and other health issues.

Sanitation challenges

In addition to clean water, access to proper sanitation facilities is crucial for maintaining public health. However, a significant number of people lack access to adequate sanitation facilities, which leads to the contamination of water sources and the spread of diseases.

Impact on health and development

The water crisis has severe implications for human health and socio-economic development. Waterborne diseases like cholera, dysentery, and typhoid are prevalent in areas with limited access to clean water, causing illness and death, particularly among children. 

Moreover, the time and effort spent on collecting water, often by women and girls, reduces opportunities for education, income generation, and community development.

Environmental impact

The water crisis also has adverse effects on the environment. Overuse and mismanagement of water resources can lead to the depletion of aquifers, drying up of lakes and rivers, and damage to ecosystems. It also exacerbates conflicts over water resources between different user groups and even nations.

Climate change exacerbates the crisis

Climate change intensifies the water crisis by altering weather patterns, reducing rainfall in some areas, and causing more frequent and severe droughts and floods. These changes further stress water supplies, making it more challenging to meet the demands of growing populations.

Addressing the water crisis requires a multifaceted approach, including:

Water conservation and efficiency

Implementing measures to reduce water wastage, such as improving irrigation techniques in agriculture and promoting water-efficient practices in industries and households.

Investment in infrastructure

Building and maintaining water supply and sanitation infrastructure, including piped water systems, water treatment plants, and sanitation facilities, to ensure access to safe and clean water for all.

Integrated water resource management

Adopting sustainable and integrated approaches to managing water resources, considering the needs of various sectors like agriculture, industry, and the environment, and involving stakeholders in decision-making processes.

Promoting sanitation and hygiene

Encouraging proper sanitation practices, including the construction of toilets and promoting hygiene education, to prevent water contamination and reduce the spread of waterborne diseases.

Climate change adaptation

Developing strategies to adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as implementing water harvesting techniques, enhancing water storage capacities, and improving drought and flood management.

International cooperation

Fostering collaboration between countries, organizations, and communities to address transboundary water issues, share best practices, and provide assistance to regions facing severe water scarcity.

By addressing the water crisis comprehensively and promoting sustainable water management practices, it is possible to mitigate its impacts and ensure access to clean and safe water for all.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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