The world is facing an imminent water crisis, with demand expected to outstrip the supply of fresh water by 40% by the end of this decade, experts have said, according to a landmark report on the economics of water. The report marks the first time the global water system has been scrutinised comprehensively and its value to countries – and the risks to their prosperity if water is neglected.
Johan Rockstrom, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a lead author of the report, told the Guardian the world’s current neglect of water resources was leading to disaster.
“The scientific evidence is that we have a water crisis. We are misusing water, polluting water, and changing the whole global hydrological cycle, through what we are doing to the climate. It’s a triple crisis.” Water is fundamental to the climate crisis and the global food crisis. “There will be no agricultural revolution unless we fix water,” said Rockstrom.
Mariana Mazzucato, an economist and professor at University College London, also a lead author, added:
“We need a much more proactive, and ambitious, common good approach. We have to put justice and equity at the centre of this, it’s not just a technological or finance problem.”
Many governments still do not realise how interdependent they are when it comes to water, according to Rockstrom. Most countries depend for about half of their water supply on the evaporation of water from neighbouring countries – known as “green” water because it is held in soils and delivered from transpiration in forests and other ecosystems, when plants take up water from the soil and release vapour into the air from their leaves.
Many of the ways in which water is used are inefficient and in need of change, with Rockstrom pointing to developed countries’ sewage systems.
“It’s quite remarkable that we use safe, fresh water to carry excreta, urine, nitrogen, phosphorus – and then need to have inefficient wastewater treatment plants that leak 30% of all the nutrients into downstream aquatic ecosystems and destroy them and cause dead zones. We’re really cheating ourselves..."