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Global demand for freshwater will exceed supply by 40% by 2030, experts say

The world is facing an imminent water crisisand demand is expected to outstrip freshwater supply by 40% by the end of this decade, experts said on the eve of a crucial UN water summit.

Governments must urgently stop subsidizing the extraction and excessive use of water through misdirected agricultural subsidies, and industries from mining to manufacturing must review their wasteful practices, according to a historical report on the economy of water.

Nations need to start managing water as a global commons, because most countries are highly dependent on their neighbors for their water supply, and overuse, pollution, and the climate crisis threaten water supplies to globally, say the report’s authors.

Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-chair of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, and lead author of the report, told The Guardian that global neglect of water resources was leading to disaster. “The scientific evidence is that we have a water crisis. we are misusing water, contaminating the water and changing the entire global hydrological cycle, through what we are doing to the climate. It’s a triple crisis.”


The companion to Rockstrom’s Global Commission on the Economics of Water Co-Chair Mariana Mazzucato, Professor at University College London and also lead author of the report, added: “We need a much more proactive and ambitious common good approach. We have to put justice and equity at the center of this, it is not just a technological or financial problem.

The report marks the first time that the global water system has been comprehensively examined and its value to countries, and the risks to their prosperity if water is neglected, is presented in clear terms. As with the Stern review of the economics of the climate crisis in 2006 and the dasgupta review of the economics of biodiversity in 2021, the authors of the report hope to highlight the crisis in a way that politicians and economists can recognize.

Many governments still do not realize 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 neighboring countries, known as “green” water because it is retained in soils and released through transpiration in forests and other ecosystems. when plants absorb water from the soil and release vapor into the air from their leaves.

The report sets out seven key recommendations, including reshaping global governance of water resources, increasing investment in water management through public-private partnerships, pricing water right, and establishing “fair partnerships for water.” to raise funds for water projects in developing and medium-sized countries. income countries.


More than $700 billion (£575 billion) of subsidies worldwide go to agriculture and water each year, and these often fuel excessive water consumption. Water leakage also needs to be urgently addressed, according to the report, and restoring freshwater systems such as wetlands should be another priority.

Water is critical to the climate crisis and the world food crisis. “There will be no agricultural revolution unless we fix the water,” Rockstrom said. “Behind all these challenges we face, there is always water and we never talk about water.”

Many of the ways water is used are inefficient and need change, and Rockstrom points out that sewage systems of developed countries. “It is quite remarkable that we use safe, fresh water to transport excrement, urine, nitrogen, phosphorus, and then we need to have inefficient wastewater treatment plants that filter 30% of all nutrients in downstream aquatic ecosystems and destroy them and They cause dead zones. We are really kidding ourselves in terms of this modern linear water based system for treating waste. Massive innovations are required.”

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He UN Water Summit, led by the governments of the Netherlands and Tajikistan, will take place in New York on March 22. World leaders are invited, but only a few are expected to attend, and most countries will be represented by ministers or high-ranking officials. It will be the first time in more than four decades that the UN has met to discuss water, with previous attempts blocked by governments reluctant to approve any form of international governance of the resource.

Henk Ovink, the Netherlands’ special envoy for international water affairs, told The Guardian that the conference was crucial. “If we are to hope to solve our climate crisis, our biodiversity crisis, and other global food, energy, and health challenges, we must radically change our approach to how we value and manage water,” he said. “(This) is the best opportunity we have to put water at the center of global action to ensure that people, crops and the environment continue to have the water they need.”

Seven calls to action on water

  1. Manage the global water cycle as a global common good, to be protected collectively and in our shared interests.

  2. Ensure safe and adequate water for all vulnerable groups and work with industry to increase investment in water.

  3. Stop undervaluing water. The right prices and targeted support for the poor will allow water to be used more efficiently, more equitably and more sustainably.

  4. Reduce the more than $700 billion in agriculture and water subsidies each year, which often fuel excessive water consumption, and reduce leaks in water systems.

  5. Establish “fair water partnerships” that can mobilize finance for low- and middle-income countries.

  6. Take urgent action this decade on issues like restoring depleted wetlands and groundwater resources, recycling water used in industry; move to precision agriculture that uses water more efficiently; and have companies report their “water footprint”.

  7. Reform international water governance, and include water in trade agreements. Governance must also take into account women, farmers, indigenous peoples and others on the front lines of water conservation.

This article was amended on March 17, 2023. An earlier version, based on figures from a preliminary version of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water report, said agricultural and water subsidies amounted to $1 trillion a year ; this has been changed to $700 billion according to the final report.

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