India’s cities will be worst impacted by lack of water in coming decades, UN warns

India‘s cities will be the worst impacted by lack of water in the coming decades, the United Nations warned this week.

Between 1.7-2.4 billion people will suffer water scarcity by 2050 - around a billion more than already do so today, according to the new report by the United Nations World Water Development.

The report was published on Tuesday ahead of the UN 2023 Water Conference, the first gathering of global leaders in 50 years to try to solve the world’s future water shortages.

Researchers also estimated that around 80 per cent of people who are currently living under water stress are in Asia – with northeast China, India and Pakistan particularly impacted.

“The global urban population facing water scarcity is projected to increase from 933 million (one third of global urban population) in 2016 to 1.7-2.4 billion people (one third to nearly half of global urban population) in 2050, with India projected to be the most severely affected,” the report said, citing data.

The report’s editor-in-chief Richard Connor told reporters at a press conference at the UN headquarters that uncertainties about water scarcity are increasing and without adequate intervention, he warned of a global crisis.

“If we don’t address it, there definitely will be a global crisis,” he said, pointing out that water scarcity is the result of reduced availability and increased demand.

Agriculture alone consumes 70 per cent of the world’s water supply, he said, with urban and industrial growth also reducing availability and increasing demand.

UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay also emphasised that strong international mechanisms are urgently needed to prevent the global water crisis from spiralling out of control.

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“There is an urgent need to establish strong international mechanisms to prevent the global water crisis from spiralling out of control,” Mr Azoulay said. “Water is our common future, and it is essential to act together to share it equitably and manage it sustainably.”

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres also echoed her sentiments, stating that water is the “lifeblood of humanity”, and its protection is essential for survival.

Mr Guterres voiced concern that humanity is blindly travelling a dangerous path.

“Vampiric overconsumption and overdevelopment, unsustainable water use, pollution and unchecked global warming are draining humanity’s lifeblood, drop by drop.”

Globally, two billion people do not have safe drinking water and 3.6 billion lack access to safely managed sanitation, the report found.

The report concludes that building partnerships and cooperation are essential for realising human rights to water and overcoming existing challenges. Economic water scarcity is a big problem, where governments fail to provide safe access, such as in the middle of Africa where water flows, while physical scarcity is worst in desert areas, including northern India and the Middle East.

The report, launched ahead of the crucial 2023 United Nations Water Conference, the first major UN meeting on water in nearly half a century, called for increased transboundary partnerships and cooperation as a key to integrated approaches to water management spanning across key sectors.