World is draining 'humanity's lifeblood', warns UN chief at start of water conference

Almost 2 billion people lack safe drinking water and 3.6 billion use sanitation services that leave human waste untreated

People carry water jugs in a residential area in New Delhi, India. AP
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The world's supplies of clean water are in deep trouble thanks to humanity's “vampiric” overconsumption of life's essential resource, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned on Wednesday.

Speaking at the opening session of a historic international water conference, Mr Guterres accused the global community of breaking the water cycle, destroying ecosystems and spoiling groundwater.

He said countries are “draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use”.

Mr Guterres called on the UN's 193 member states to recognise the importance of water and to work together across borders to jointly manage it.

Speaking at the first UN water summit of its kind in since 1977, the UN chief called for “massive” investments in water and sanitation systems as well as finding new ways to recycle and conserve water.

Over 1.7 billion people lack basic sanitation,” he said.

“Half a billion practise open defecation … And millions of women and girls spend hours every day fetching water.”

Developing countries are currently the most affected by water shortages, but the UN noted that by 2025, half of the global population could be living in areas where water is scarce. The world could face a 40 per cent gap between water supply and demand by 2030.

Csaba Korosi, President of the 77th session of the General Assembly, referred to water as a global “common good”, and urged the international community to adjust policy, legislation and financing accordingly.

US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced on Wednesday that Washington would provide $49 billion to “advance equitable access of climate-resilient water and sanitation infrastructure” in the US and worldwide.

The EU committed more than €1 billion for water management.

Since the first UN Water Conference was held in Argentina in 1977, the world’s population has doubled to nearly eight billion. In tandem with economic development and changing consumption patterns, this means demand for water has skyrocketed.

Co-hosted by the governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands, the three-day conference in New York aims to raise awareness of the global water crisis.

It will also decide on action to achieve internationally agreed upon water-related goals and help meet the development goal, set in 2015, of ensuring “access to water and sanitation for all by 2030".

The UN General Assembly in 2010 recognised water and sanitation as human rights.

Updated: March 22, 2023, 3:46 PM