This year will be key for international efforts to solve the ongoing crisis that is affecting 780 million people without access to potable water, and the 2.5 billion who lack adequate sanitation services.
Six to eight million people die annually from the consequences of water-related disasters and diseases. Global population growth projections of 2-3 billion people over the next 40 years, combined with changing diets, result in a predicted increase in food demand of 70% by 2050.
Over half of the world population lives in urban areas, and the number of urban dwellers grows each day. Urban areas, although better served than rural areas, are struggling to keep up with population growth.
With expected increases in population, by 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50% while energy demand from hydropower and other renewable energy resources will rise by 60%. These issues are interconnected – increasing agricultural output, for example, will substantially increase both water and energy consumption, leading to increased competition for water between water-using sectors.
In December 2010, the General Assembly passed a resolution that declared 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. The resolution states that water is fundamental for sustainable development, and especially for the integrity of the environment, human health, and welfare, and the eradication of poverty and hunger. All of these challenges are part of the Millennium Development Goals, established by the UN in 2000, to be fulfilled by 2015. One of these goals is to reduce by half the percentage of people who lack access to potable water and to basic sanitation services.
Many are sceptical about whether this is an attainable goal, given the slow and uneven progress made to date. In light of the situation, aggravated by the effects of climate change and other problems that have a negative impact on the quantity and quality of water, the UN is insisting on the need to step up cooperation at all levels. That is one of the principal cornerstones of the International Year of Water Cooperation, according to the UN resolution. Two years ago, the General Assembly recognized access to potable water and sanitation as “a basic human right for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”
According to the UN Water agency, created in 2003, the planet’s seven billion people drink two to four litres of water daily, part of which is ingested through food. This shows the real magnitude of the water question, when taking into account that 15,000 and 1,500 litres of water, respectively, are needed to produce one kilogram of beef and one kilogram of wheat. That is why the UN is demanding fundamental changes to management and policies throughout the agriculture production chain, for better use of water resources and to be able to respond to the growing demand for food and other products.
A high-level international conference on water cooperation is planned for August in Tajikistan. A proposal has also been made to hold a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on World Water Day, 22 March, first proclaimed 20 years ago by the UN General Assembly. Water is also the focus of an International Decade for Action, from 2005 to 2015, called Water, the Source of Life. Not too long ago (2003), the International Year of Fresh Water was commemorated.