Water For World Peace: Global Water Crises – OpEd


Every year, March 22nd is commemorated as World Water Day. The first World Water Day was observed by the United Nations in 1993. The idea behind celebrating this day is to create awareness among the masses regarding its importance and to ensure that steps are taken towards effective management of this scarce necessity. Each year, the UN proposes a unique theme for World Water Day. This year it has set the theme as Leveraging Water for Peace. Water is one of the most essential ingredients of our life. Without which there are no chances of life on earth. The survival of all living organism depends on it. This Year’s theme impels the trans-boundary countries to pay heed and instead of waging wars over water, cooperate with each other and resort to peaceful solutions of distribution, conservation and protection of this meagre natural resource. Thereby making it a source of peace.

The 2024 United Nations World Water Development Report released on World Water Day brought once again the world’s attention to an alarming situation. The report suggests that half of the global population is facing water shortage currently and the situation is aggravating every day. While some of the population face water scarcity for a few months the other parts of the globe endure the sever scarcity round the year. The UNESSCO report estimates that 2.2 billion population of the world is currently living without access to safely managed drinking water and approximate 3.5 billion of the world population lack access to safely managed sanitation system 

The UNESCO report aims to highlight the importance of access to clean and safe water, and how this access is critical in promoting peace because it proposes that the tensions over water access are leading to scarcity and resulting into indispensable resources exacerbating conflicts across the world. 

So what leads to shortage of water? Well, the answer to this question is both man-made and natural reasons contribute towards the shortage of this finite resource. With global warming causing melting of the glaciers and snowcaps at a faster pace, coupled with frequent and severe droughts, the availability of fresh water has drastically reduced to an alarming level. Moreover, increased water wastage and sea water pollution by industries and humans have further strained the availability of fresh and clean water.

This water stress plays in important role in hampering the social stability structure and have serious implications for the global social system as almost 10% of water scarcity is linked with the issue of increased migrations worldwide. Similarly, violent conflicts, epidemics, global warming, hyperinflation and other crises both affect and are affected by water. Water Resources in all its manifestations reinforces prosperity through health, education, employment, food and energy security, sustainable ecosystems, and partaking these benefits in promoting peace. 

Using two examples of geopolitical coordination around water access the report highlights how this coordination set a framework for lawmakers around the world to ensure a global regime structure to regulate the water issues. First, the Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin (FASRB), serves as an example of best practice for other regions of the world. The understanding has become a key driver of stability in the region. It was signed in 2002 by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. Similarly, the other case is on Lake Chad in Central Africa which has already decreased in size by 90% over 60 years, for that purpose UNESCO report elucidates how the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) has ensured the most efficient use of the basin’s waters for Cameroon, Chad, the Central Africa Republic, Libya, Niger and Nigeria. It has not only coordinated local development, but has also proven effective in preventing disputes among these countries and local communities based on water scarcity. 

Another catastrophic situation is caused by heaving floods which have caused nearly 100,000 deaths over the period 2002–2021, effecting almost 1.6 billion people around the globe causing an economic loss of US$832 billion in 2021 and US$45 billion in 2022. At the same time during these years the other heart wrenching situation was observed with droughts affecting over 1.4 billion people, killed over 21,000 more and causing and economic loss of US$170 billion. However, it does not stop here, because the continued global warming is expected to exaggerate the global water cycle, resulting in further increase in the frequency and severity of droughts and floods, leading towards additional economic losses and human losses in years to come

When it comes to water stress, scarcity and unavailability of water resources, the low-income countries are at the highest risk. As it is estimated that in low-income countries the 80% jobs are ultimately water dependent due to the dominance of agriculture as the main employment sector as compared to high-income countries, where the job market is far more diversified and less dependent on water source. Hence the poorer countries are more vulnerable and that is where this crisis hits the hardest with most severe consequences. 

Another interesting aspect highlighted by the report revolves around the impact of global water crises on women. It uses the example of women in developing countries who are the once normally tasked with traveling to retrieve water supply from larger distance, this travelling to far flung areas in search of water not only effects their health more than men but also exposes them to violence, some even become victims of sexual assault. Condensed access to water supply especially for women not only creates safety concerns but also undermines their health, education and economic participation, which contribute to highest rate of girl’s dropout rate from schools as compared to boys, according to the report.

Water is indeed the basis for prosperity, but that needs steps to raise awareness among decision-makers to ensure a water-secure future that has the ability to avoid violent conflicts and can support peace and prosperity for all. This will require a serious amount of investment and efforts to put into ensuring development of water supply, water infrastructure, and sanitation systems, and water conservation all the way from storage to irrigation systems. The actions also call for increasing the quantity and quality of water-related investments for lower- and middle-income countries as they are the most exposed to risks. To meet the scale of investment needed, both public and private sources of finance are needed to ensure the true spirit of 2024 World Water Day motto i.e.: Water for World Peace.

Noureen Akhtar

Noureen Akhtar s a PhD Scholar (SPIR-QAU) and has worked on various public policy issues as a Policy Consultant in National Security Division (NSD), Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Currently, she is working in Islamabad Policy Research Institution (IPRI) as a Policy Researcher/Consultant. Her work has been published in local and International publications. She can be reached at [email protected]. Twitter: @NoureenAkhtar16

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