Global Threats: The World Economic Forum ranks water supply crises as the highest global risk for 2013, after the major financial failure.
Socio-Economic Context: 884 million people (12.5% of global population) live without safe drinking water and about 2.5 billion people (40%) lack adequate sanitation. By current trends, 1.8 billion people will, by 2025, be living with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world’s population could be under water stress conditions.
Water and Disasters: Over 7,000 major disasters since 1970 have caused $2 trillion in damages and killed 2.5 million people.
Water related hazards account for 90% of all natural hazards. In 2011 alone, natural disasters killed more than 296,800 people, affected nearly 208 million others and cost some $110 billion dollars.
Climate Change: Climate change impacts are delivered primarily via changes in water resources. Adaptation is mainly about better water management.
Water is pivotal to sustainable development. It underpins most economic activity and also food, energy, industry and human health. Access to drinking water and sanitation are already enshrined in the MDGs. But both the supply and quality of water are becoming increasingly insecure for all uses.
Ecosystems function as a “natural water infrastructure”. Forest protect water supplies, wetlands regulate floods, healthy soils increase water and nutrient availability for crops and help reduce off-farm impacts, and natural man-made wetlands and buffer strips can be effective in managing nutrient run-off and pollution.
The Rio+20 document (The Future We Want) highlighted the importance of water to the sustainable developmental agenda. It also made an important leap in understanding “the key role that ecosystems in maintaining water quality and supports actions within respective national boundaries to protect and sustain ably manage these ecosystems”.
This represents the required paradigm shift from considering the impacts of water on ecosystems to viewing ecosystems as an asset, or tool, to help us achieve sustainable water-related outcomes for all people.