Climate change threatens the planet’s water reserves, a resource that is vital to the proper functioning of our societies. In this century, which is none other than that of demographic explosion and urbanization, two phenomena that are themselves conducive to an increase in the world’s need for water, water is more than ever a central issue.
Our water security is at risk and the figures speak for themselves: 80% of the population is affected by forms of water insecurity while temperatures are expected to rise between 2.2 and 5.1 degrees¹. On the one hand, this global warming is disrupting the water cycle: water evaporation is accelerating and consequently the quantity available in the liquid state is decreasing. On the other hand, meteorological models are being pushed to their limits: rainfall is increasing in high latitudes while mid-latitudes are experiencing a decrease in precipitation.
Inevitably, these climate changes are impacting our food security. According to figures from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 600 million people will be food insecure due to climate change by 2080. This will add to the 821 million people already affected by the phenomenon. Already, a large part of freshwater resources (70% to 90% depending on the country) is devoted to agricultural activities. Needs will increase to ensure the growing production of biofuels. Yet crops, whether rainfed or irrigated, are struggling to adapt to the variability in rainfall caused by climate change. The lack of water in liquid form is compensated by a surplus of water vapour. The phenomenon is not insignificant since it explains, among other things, the intensification of extreme weather events. While droughts and floods are not new, their increasingly unpredictable and devastating nature is one of the manifestations of climate change.
These disruptions increase the vulnerability of populations and leave them destitute in the face of health and food risks. When sanitation systems are destroyed or inadequate, the risk of transmission of water-borne diseases is increased. In this respect, ensuring access to sanitation for all in complete safety is a major challenge for the future: 80% of the world’s wastewater is currently discharged into the environment without treatment. Human activities are also vectors of water pollution: nitrates, phyto-toxic algae, pathogens, various chemicals and microplastics found in 80% of freshwater sources². However, the current rise in water temperature favours the proliferation of this pollution. While the consequences of climate change accentuate global inequalities and imbalances, the decline in water quality is a phenomenon that knows no boundaries.
In the long term, and according to the conclusions of IPCC experts, our security is threatened by climate change. Climate change, whether caused by the search for arable land and water or by natural disasters, will affect 18 million people in 2018. By 2050, this figure will reach the level of 140 million people, according to the World Bank. These population movements, combined with water scarcity, are likely to rekindle tensions and conflicts. There is no doubt that human security in all its facets (water, food, health, energy) is affected by the changes in water.
In the face of these threats, SOLIDARITIES INTERNATIONAL intervenes to help populations endangered by crises while calling on the responsible actors to mobilize to provide a response commensurate with the risks and to leave no one behind.
¹5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2014
²Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis, Banque mondiale, 2019.
By Alicia Piveteau