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Water crisis worsens while world remains unprepared: WMO

Flooding in Ayutthaya province, north of Bangkok, Thailand, 4 October, 2021. Floods are becoming more frequent and severe with climate change. (Credit: Keystone/AP Photo/Nathathida Adireksarn)

The number of water-related disasters continues to climb while the Earth’s freshwater resources are increasingly under stress, according to a UN report.

Rising temperatures are causing floods, droughts, hurricanes and other water-related hazards to become more frequent and severe, costing lives and causing immense economic losses. Meanwhile, early warning systems are “fragmented and inadequate”, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned on Tuesday.

Floods have soared by 134 per cent in the last two decades, with the heaviest human life toll in Asia where warning systems, namely for river flooding, are not well developed. 

In the last year alone, floods in countries like China, India and Pakistan, have killed hundreds and displaced millions, WMO’s secretary general Petteri Taalas recalled in a statement.

There have also been 20 per cent more droughts, causing the most amount of deaths in Africa as food crises unravel throughout the continent.

“We need to wake up to the looming water crisis,” said Taalas, warning that small island states and least developed countries are the most vulnerable.

Out of the 93 state members, roughly 60 per cent lack proper water services and 43 per cent do not have climate services, he said. He also pointed out a lack of hydrological data collection to prevent and better prepare for disasters.

Freshwater resources are increasingly under pressure from climate change, human activities and population growth. Over the past 20 years, the world has lost 1cm of water on land per year, according to WMO’s findings.

Glacier areas are particularly affected, posing a threat to the millions of people that depend on that ice for water supply. The Himalayas, South America and Alaska where the ice is retreating fast. Changes in precipitation patterns are also threatening food production as soil moisture levels drop.

Over 3.6 billion people lacked sufficient access to water for at least one month in 2018, a figure expected to soar to five million by 2050, the analysis states. A total of 107 countries are not on track to sustainably manage their water resources by 2030.

With key climate talks less than one month away, Taalas called on states to join the WMO-led water and climate coalition, and urged them to improve their water management to cope with water stress.