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UN: World is falling way behind on water security targets

In a recently released global water security assessment, United Nations water experts have raised major concerns, revealing that a majority of the world’s population currently lives in water-insecure countries. Water security is crucial to development, and the report suggests that we are far from achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 of “clean water and sanitation for all” by 2030.

The report was released on the second day of the UN 2023 Water Conference and provides a multidimensional comparison of water security affecting 7.8 billion people across 186 countries. It offers insights midway through the Water Action Decade (2018-2028) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Dr. Charlotte MacAlister, the report’s lead author and senior water security researcher at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), emphasized the importance of water security.

“Without water security, countries are simply incapable of supporting freshwater ecosystems, livelihoods and human well-being,” said Dr. MacAlister. She urged for policy discussions to center around these development challenges in the remaining seven years to fulfill SDG 6.

The assessment, published by UNU-INWEH, also known as the UN Think Tank on Water, criticizes the policymakers’ primary focus on water scarcity mitigation. The experts argue that this narrow interpretation of water security has derailed the world from meeting SDG 6 by 2030.

To provide a more accurate understanding of global water security, the UNU-INWEH report evaluated water security across ten components: drinking water, sanitation, good health, water quality, water availability, water value, water governance, human safety, economic safety, and water resource stability. The findings are alarming, with 78 percent of the global population (6.1 billion people) currently living in water-insecure countries.

UNU-INWEH’s Director, Professor Kaveh Madani, praised the report as “a major contribution” to the UN 2023 Water Conference, held from March 22-24 in New York. He highlighted the need for targeted policy, funding, and action to accelerate progress, meet the 2030 Agenda, and ensure that the most vulnerable and insecure are not left behind.

The global assessment’s key findings expose numerous challenges, such as the critical levels of water security faced by Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) due to various compounding factors. The report identified 23 countries as critically water-insecure, including 16 LDCs and 7 SIDS.

Furthermore, the assessment found that only 33 countries from three geographic regions are water-secure. Sweden tops the list, followed by numerous European countries, New Zealand, Cyprus, Australia, Japan, Israel, Kuwait, and Malaysia in the Asia-Pacific region, and Canada and the USA in the Americas.

The report also emphasized that abundant natural water availability does not guarantee water security. Many countries in Africa, the Asia-Pacific, and the Americas with abundant freshwater resources suffer from high rates of WASH-attributed (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) deaths due to limited WASH access, poor water quality, and water having low economic value despite potentially high economic losses due to floods or droughts.

Additionally, access to safely managed drinking water and sanitation remains a distant dream for over half the global population. More than 70 percent (close to 5.5 billion people) do not have safe water access, with Africa having the lowest levels of access at just 15 percent of the region’s population.

Worryingly, the situation is not improving. More people die globally from a lack of safe WASH services than those killed in water-related disasters, and 2019 saw increased rates of WASH-attributed mortality in 164 countries.

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