UN report highlights scale of global water crisis

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The world faces a global water deficit of 40% by 2030, according to new UN water report.

Unlike most other natural resources, it has proved extremely difficult to determine water’s ‘true’ value, according to a major new report issued by UN Water.

The latest World Water Development Report – Valuing Water issued by UN Water assesses how water is valued across different sectors and cultures and sets out to identify possible improvements to evaluate water more effectively and efficiently. The report highlights that over two billion people already live in areas subject to water stress and some 3.4 billion people, 45% of the global population, lack access to safely managed sanitation facilities. By considering water valuation, investment and governance, the report provides a global overview of the current water crisis and offers insights and suggestions into the regional challenges at hand.

In a statement issued on World Water Day on 22 March 2021, UN secretary-general António Guterres spoke about the current critical situation and pointed out that to meet UN sustainable development goal 6, efforts would need to quadruple, saying: “We are not on track to ensure everyone has access to water and sanitation by 2030, as set out in sustainable development goal 6. While advances are being made, current progress needs to quadruple to achieve universal access.”

The report also notes that “consolidating the different approaches and methods for valuing water across multiple dimensions and perspectives will likely remain challenging. Even within a specific water use sector, different approaches can lead to strikingly different valuations.”

According to the report, despite the large sums of money invested in water infrastructure, the valuation of costs and benefits lack efficient development and standardisation. The report discusses that most methods of valuing water infrastructure centre on a cost-benefit approach, but there is a tendency to overestimate benefits and underestimate costs, notably not including all costs.

Highlighting the need for better water valuation as a business case for water project investment, the report suggests that all benefits should be taken into account – economic, social and environmental – and notes that many of the unintended consequences of these investments, both negative and positive, must be considered.

By further showcasing how water’s value varies, depending on who is using it and why, the report notes that without acknowledging the variables within different belief systems, cultures, genders, and scientific disciplines, attaining SDG 6 and meeting the world’s current and future water needs would not be possible.

Click here to download The United Nations World Water Development Report 2021 – Valuing Water

FIDIC’s latest State of the World report, to be launched on Thursday 1 April 2021, will focus on establishing the value of water. Click here to register for the free launch webinar.