In Brief

Water shortages ‘likely to affect five billion people by 2050’

UN warns of threat of civil unrest, mass migration and wars over water

Climate change and a growing global population are likely to threaten the water security of more than half of the world’s predicted nine billion people by 2050, according to a new UN report.

Meanwhile, demand on water supplies is expected to rise by nearly a third. “If we do nothing, some five billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050,” says Audrey Azoulay, director-general of Unesco, which coordinates the annual study. 

Currently, 3.6 billion people live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year.

Azoulay warns that water scarcity can lead to civil unrest, mass migration and even conflict within and between countries.

“Ensuring the sustainable use of the planet’s resources is vital for ensuring long-term peace and prosperity,” she adds.

Water quality is also deteriorating, The Guardian reports. Since the 1990s, “pollution has worsened in almost every river in Africa, Asia and Latin America”.

The UN has recommended “working with nature, rather than against it”, in an attempt to make water use more efficient, cost-effective and healthier for both people and the environment.

“For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management,” says Gilbert Houngbo, chair of UN-Water, which coordinates water-related efforts by all UN groups. “In so doing, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches.”

Cape Town, where residents were told they should prepare for life without running water earlier this year, is among the worst affected cities in the world.

Although a severe drought persists in the South African city, residents have managed to avoid Day Zero - the day when taps are turned off - by adhering to strict water conservation advice.

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