Water shortage due to climate change The global situation is alarming
A report by Evke Freya von Ahlefeldt
„The next war in the Middle East will be fought over water,“ predicted the then UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali as early as 1985.
Tanks to protect or defend wells have not yet been deployed, but international conflicts over water have been around for a long time. India and Pakistan are fighting for water rights on the Indus. Iraq and Turkey are fighting over the Tigris and Euphrates waters. Egypt and Ethiopia are also fighting over water in the basin of the Blue Nile. There is already a lack of water in 17 countries.
These include the Arab Gulf States, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Botswana and Eritrea. But also the small Mediterranean state of San Marino, Turkmenistan as well as India and Pakistan and Afghanistan belong to it. In Europe, too, the consequences can be felt in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece. Researchers from the World Resources Institute are also seeing in some Balkan countries and, surprisingly, in Belgium the development of water shortages with concern.
Access to clean water and hygiene is essential for survival and development – especially for young children. „Water and sanitation for all“ is therefore the sixth of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
A late 10 points die clearly showing the effects of climate change.
1. The water crisis is happening now! 2.2 billion people worldwide do not have regular access to clean water. An incredible number. Around 785 million people do not even have a basic supply of drinking water. People or families in the poorer regions of the world are particularly affected – and there especially in rural areas. More than two thirds of the earth is covered by water, but only less than three percent of it is drinkable. And this drinking water is also very unevenly distributed. In Africa, Latin America and Asia in particular, there is dramatic water shortage in many places. An estimated 3.6 billion people now live in areas that are extremely arid for at least one month a year. According to a recent study by UNICEF, more than 1.42 billion people worldwide live in areas with overall high or extremely high water insecurity, including 450 million children. There is currently no improvement in sight. The UN World Water Report from 2019 advocated „green“ solutions – such as natural water cycles that should be used for water supply. When does a real rethink take place?
2. Water not only has to be clean, it has to be „safe“. Here at UNICEF we speak of „safe“ water when it is accessible to people close to their home, available when needed and, of course, free from contamination. Only then can families be sure that their health is not at risk. What good is it if there is water nearby, but it comes from a polluted river and is full of pathogens? This is the situation for Baraka from South Sudan, for example. The five-year-old lives with his mother and siblings on the outskirts of the capital Juba. During the civil war, water points and wells were deliberately damaged and destroyed. The only alternative for the family: fetch water from a nearby river. Polluted water that can be contaminated with germs and bacteria and lead to disease.
3. Diseases spread particularly quickly without water and hygiene. Since the appearance of the coronavirus at the latest, we have also been even more aware of the fact that hygiene is extremely important in order to avoid diseases. In the poorer regions of the world in particular, polluted water from rivers is a problem – another is poor hygiene. Around two billion people do not use safe sanitary facilities. This includes, for example, a toilet that ensures that people do not come into contact with the excrement and a system that safely removes the excrement. Diseases can spread so quickly – a deadly threat to young children. Here, too, South Sudan is a cautionary example: a cholera outbreak there had claimed over 400 lives there since the summer of 2016. In the rainy season, further outbreaks threaten: floods pollute the water sources, many sanitary facilities are in poor condition – or even nonexistent.
4. „Open defecation“ is more common than you think. Practically inconceivable in this country, everyday life in many regions of the world: Around 673 million people practice bowel movements outdoors. So they do not even have a simple toilet, but relieve themselves on the roadside, in fields or in the bushes. How can you change that? Among other things through education: UNICEF not only takes care of the expansion and maintenance of the water systems or the construction of latrines in rural village communities, but also trains so-called „water committees“. The members of the committees then inform other villagers about simple hygiene practices or the risk of illness, for example. Or they check the quality of the drinking water available.
5. As always, the children are most at risk. The lack of clean water and hygiene are still the leading causes of death in children under five. More than 700 children die every day from preventable diseases such as diarrhea caused by contaminated water or poor hygiene. Hygiene is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to prevent life-threatening diseases. After the great typhoon in 2013, the children in the Philippines learned to sing „Happy Birthday“ twice while washing their hands with soap – this is exactly the right time to get rid of dangerous pathogens. An important note, because in some of the poorest regions of the world hand washing is not a matter of course. Thoroughly washing hands with soap, if done correctly, is also an important factor in the fight against the coronavirus – we have heard that over and over again over the past year. The problem: billions of people around the world don’t have constant, easy access to a place to wash their hands.
6. Countless babies are born in unsanitary conditions. According to the UN, one in four hospitals worldwide did not have running water and soap for hand washing in 2019. 21% did not have simple toilets. In such circumstances, safe births are hardly possible. And hygiene is vital around childbirth. For example, if the umbilical cord is cut with a non-sterile object, the baby can be at risk of contracting a life-threatening disease such as tetanus. The situation is particularly dramatic in emergency situations: when, for example, two severe earthquakes struck Nepal in 2015, many hospitals and birth centers were destroyed – in some regions even around 70 percent of the birth centers. UNICEF set up health stations and emergency shelters where mothers could give birth to their babies safely and under hygienic conditions.
7. Water shortage prevents schooling. When children have to walk long distances every day to fetch water for the family, they often miss the chance to go to school. This is valuable time, especially for children, in which they cannot be children and cannot learn. This is what happens to Aysha from Ethiopia, for example. This is a day in her life … In addition, if schools do not have safe drinking water and toilets, children cannot study in an appropriate environment. And girls often prefer to stay at home during their menstruation. In 2019, only about 69% of schools worldwide had basic access to drinking water, and only 66% had sanitation. Around 900 million children have no access to hygiene at their school. The African countries south of the Sahara are particularly affected.
8. Climate change makes it worse. The changing climate affects precipitation, among other things: intensity, duration and distribution over the seasons change. This in turn affects the quantity and quality of the drinking water. Overall, climate change exacerbates water scarcity and can intensify competition for limited water resources. Many people will be forced to move to other areas in the future. Extreme weather events can also damage water systems and infrastructure that children in particular need for their survival and development, such as sanitary facilities and water pipes in schools and health facilities. The global weather phenomenon El Niño has shown us in recent years what effects climate change can have. The countries of eastern and southern Africa in particular were hit with full force: Extreme drought and drought alternated with torrential rains. Where are the gloomy prognoses of climate change leading us? Around 500 million children are already living in areas that are exposed to an extremely high risk of flooding due to extreme weather events such as cyclones, hurricanes and storms as well as rising sea levels. 450 million children live in areas with high or extremely high water insecurity. By 2040, almost every fourth child in the world will be living in an area affected by extreme drought – if we don’t act soon.
9. In conflicts and crises, children are twice as likely to have no access to water. Millions of people around the world urgently need clean water in emergency situations. A particularly striking example is the civil war in Syria, which has now been going on for 10 years. The fighting has left deep marks there: the water supply has repeatedly collapsed in many places, and millions of people have been affected in recent years. UNICEF is fighting the water shortage in Syria with emergency deliveries on trucks and the construction and repair of wells and infrastructure. Every day our colleagues provide the children in the destroyed cities and refugee shelters with clean water. A particular concern is the rebuilding of permanent water supplies for schools.
10. We have to do more! The facts and figures make it clear that the world is not yet on the right track to achieve the sixth of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: „Water and sanitation for all“. UNICEF is already working at the highest political levels, calling on governments to meet their commitments to improve access to water and sanitation and to work to contain the effects of climate change. Cooperation between governments and national statistical offices should also be strengthened to improve the collection, analysis and dissemination of data. Against the background of the global water crisis, UNICEF started the „Water Security for All“ initiative in order to ensure that every child has access to a sustainable and climate-resistant water supply in the long term. The initiative aims to bundle resources, partnerships and innovations and mobilize support for the „hotspots“ where investments in water, sanitation and hygiene are most urgent. Technical developments and innovations could help, as this example from Malawi shows: UNICEF has installed a solar-powered pump in a village near the city of Blantyre, which helps the community to prepare for future emergencies. The solar pump goes deeper into the ground than a hand pump. This means that people can still access water during a drought when the water table is falling. In addition, the pump requires little maintenance and solar power is cheaper, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable than expensive diesel generators.
Swell: UNICEF Report Save the Water
World Resources Institute