Water-related hazards like floods and droughts are increasing because of climate change. The number of people suffering water stress is expected to soar, exacerbated by population increase and dwindling availability. But management, monitoring, forecasting and early warnings are fragmented and inadequate, whilst global climate finance efforts are insufficient according to a new multi-agency report.
The State of Climate Services 2021: Water highlights the need for urgent action to improve cooperative water management, embrace integrated water and climate policies and scale up investment in this precious commodity which underpins all the international goals on sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.
“Increasing temperatures are resulting in global and regional precipitation changes, leading to shifts in rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, with a major impact on food security and human health and well-being,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“More than two billion people live in water-stressed countries and suffer lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation. We need to wake up to the looming water crisis,” he told the official high-level launch event.
The report was coordinated by WMO and contains input from more than 20 international organizations, development agencies and scientific institutions. It is accompanied by a Story Map.
According to figures cited in the report, 3.6 billion people had inadequate access to water at least one month per year in 2018. By 2050, this is expected to rise to more than five billion.
In the past 20 years, terrestrial water storage – the summation of all water on the land surface and in the subsurface, including soil moisture, snow and ice – has dropped at a rate of 1cm per year. The biggest losses are occurring in Antarctica and Greenland, but many highly populated lower latitude locations are experiencing significant water losses in areas that are traditionally providing water supply, with major ramifications for water security.
The situation is worsening by the fact that only 0.5% of water on Earth is useable and available freshwater.
Water-related hazards have increased in frequency over the past 20 years. Since 2000, flood-related disasters have risen by 134% compared with the two previous decades. Most of the flood-related deaths and economic losses were recorded in Asia, where end-to-end warning systems for riverine floods require strengthening. The number and duration of droughts also increased by 29% over this same period.
Asia faced with of growing water-related hazards and stress
Asia has continued to face extreme impacts from weather, water and climate compared to other regions, especially from floods. From 1970-2019, Asia recorded 3,454 disasters, almost 1 million lives lost and economic losses of US$ 1.2 trillion associated with weather-, water- and climate-related hazard events. Most of these disasters were associated with floods (45%) and storms (36%). Storms had the highest impacts on life, contributing to 72% of the lives lost, while floods led to the greatest economic losses (57%).
Drought accounted for only 4% of disasters and 6% of disaster-related economic losses respectively. Flooding affected the region particularly badly in 2020. In India, flooding was responsible for the third deadliest event of the year, costing 1,922 lives.
“This past year has seen a continuation of extreme, water-related events. Across Asia, extreme rainfall caused massive flooding in Japan, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and India. Millions of people were displaced, and hundreds were killed. But it is not just in the developing world that flooding has led to major disruption. Catastrophic flooding in Europe led to hundreds of deaths and widespread damage,” said Prof. Taalas.
Integrated water resources management
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is vital to achieving long-term social, economic and environmental well-being. But, despite some advances, 107 countries remain off track to hit the goal of sustainably managing their water resources by 2030.
Overall, the world is seriously behind schedule on the UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 (SDG 6) to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. In 2020, 3.6 billion people lacked safely managed sanitation services, 2.3 billion lacked basic hygiene services and more than 2 billion live in water-stressed countries with a lack of access to safe drinking water.
75 countries reported water efficiency levels below average, including 10 with extremely low levels. The current rates of progress need to quadruple in order to reach the global targets by 2030.
The good news is that nations are determined to improve the situation. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), water and food are the two top priority issues of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement, with countries highlighting the need for strengthening climate services for water.
Figure: Overview of weather-, water-, and climate-related disasters, deaths and US$ economic losses reported in Asia (1970-2019). (Image: The Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019), WMO, 2021)
Based on IWRM implementation data from 32 Asian countries in 2020 (SDG 6.5.1), 50% of countries generally have inadequate capacity to effectively implement most IWRM elements, while 50% of countries generally having higher capacity, with most IWRM elements generally being implemented under long-term programmes.
The regional IWRM implementation average has increased from 47 in 2017 to 54 in 2020 (out of 100), which is positive, though this rate of progress is unlikely to reach the SDG target of 6.5 by 2030. Two WMO Members in this region out of the 17 providing data report having inadequate end-to-end riverine flood forecasting services and only nine Members are providing those services at a full/advanced capacity level. Ten Members indicate having inadequate end-to-end drought forecasting systems and four are providing drought warning services at a full/advanced capacity level.
Aspirations vs reality
To reduce water-related disasters and support water resource management, climate services for water and end-to-end early warning systems, as well as sustainable investments, are required. These are not yet adequate.
Some 60% of national meteorological and hydrological services – the national public agencies mandated to provide basic hydrological information and warning services to the government, the public, and the private sector – lack the full capacities needed to provide climate services for water.
A WMO assessment of 101 countries for which data are available found that:
- There is inadequate interaction among climate services providers and information users in 43% of WMO Members;
- Data is not collected for basic hydrological variables in approximately 40% of them;
- Hydrological data is not made available in 67% of them;
- End-to-end riverine flood forecasting and warning systems are absent or inadequate in 34% of those who provided data;
- End-to-end drought forecasting and warning systems are lacking or inadequate in 54% of them.
Additional funding and investment are essential to support adaptation. Despite a 9% increase in financial pledges made to tackle SDG 6, official development assistance (ODA) commitments remained stable at US$ 8.8 billion between 2015 and 2019.
The report makes strategic recommendations for policymakers to improve the implementation and effectiveness of climate services for water worldwide:
- Invest in Integrated Resources Water Management as a solution to better manage water stress, especially in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs);
- Invest in end-to-end drought and flood early warning systems in at-risk LDCs, including for drought warnings in Africa and flood warnings in Asia;
- Fill the capacity gap in collecting data for basic hydrological variables which underpin climate services and early warning systems;
- Improve the interaction among national-level stakeholders to co-develop and operationalize climate services with information users to better support adaptation in the water sector. There is also a pressing need for better monitoring and evaluation of socio-economic benefits, which will help to showcase best practices;
- Fill the data gaps for climate services in the water sector. Members’ data on climate services for water is missing from 65 WMO Members and particularly from SIDS. Just 19% of SIDS provided data for this report which is insufficient to assess the state of SIDS capacities and climate services needs for water.
- Join the Water and Climate Coalition. This is organized by WMO in response to the need for integrated policy developments and improved practical solutions. The coalition provides countries with support to improve the assessment of water resources as well as forecasting and outlook services for water.
Copies of the report, slide presentation and digital assets are available here