GS Paper 3
Syllabus: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation
Context: According to a Global Commission on the Economics of Water report, human activities (from destroying forests to burning gas-oil-coal for energy) are disrupting the rainfall the world depends on.
- The report comes ahead of a key U.N. Water Conference – the first in five decades – aimed at charting a path to shore up declining global water security.
- According to 2021 data from UN-Water, about 3 billion people (almost one in three) live in water-stressed countries and a third of those facing critical pressures.
- According to the UN FAO 2020 report, 2 billion living in agricultural areas face high to very high water scarcity or shortages.
- Behind all the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), there is a volume of freshwater that powers the delivery of services.
Findings of the report:
- Impact of losses of forests: Argentina’s soybean and wheat fields are experiencing worsening drought as the Amazon shrinks (water vapour rising from rainforests falls on distant places).
- This is further aggravated by land use change and climate change.
- Huge economic, health and social stability threats:
- Eroding water security poses a risk to everything from food supplies to hydropower production, a key source of low-carbon energy.
- For example, severe water scarcity in the Horn of Africa has the potential to trigger political instability, conflict, displacement and migration.
Recommendations – Rethinking water:
- A deeper understanding of how closely water supplies are linked to climate and nature protection.
- Looking at freshwater as a global rather than just a local or regional issue, and strengthening how limited supplies are managed, shared and valued.
- A desire to capture and store more water is leading to a surge in dam-building around the world, which often results in losses of forests, land rights of local communities, etc.
- Increasing water storage in river dams can lead to growing tensions with neighbours downstream.
- For example, the India-Pakistan conflict over more dam-building on the Indus River system.
- With agriculture responsible for more than 70% of global freshwater use each year, trade in food is also trade in water.
- Improving water security requires a shift towards –
- More precise and sparing irrigation systems,
- Crops that require less water,
- Farming methods that stand up to drought and grow fewer thirsty crops in water-short places.
- In urban areas, boosting freshwater storage, recycling more wastewater and using less water in manufacturing will be key.
- Richer nations should help poor countries in their water conservation efforts (financially, tech transfer).
- Just Water Partnerships, modelled on existing Just Energy Transition Partnerships – designed to speed a global transition to clean energy, should also be considered.
Conclusion: The U.N. Water Conference can be a “Paris moment” [2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change] for water. This will ensure a sustainable and globally equitable future – that’s in every nation’s interest.