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Future of Water Q1 2022

Water under pressure – the need to accelerate progress

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Gilbert Houngbo

Chair, UN-Water

World Water Day may seem insignificant for those of us who have access to a reliable water supply. However, there are currently two billion people who live without a safely managed water service.1  

Water is a finite resource under growing pressure from agriculture, industry and a rising population. Moreover, the climate crisis is making water more erratic and the COVID-19 pandemic is creating new challenges.  

Water in crisis 

The number of town and city dwellers lacking safely-managed drinking water has risen by 50% over the past 20 years.2 Today, 733 million women, children and men live in high and critically water-stressed countries – and this number is set to expand substantially.3 

Water is critical to every single aspect of life. There is a dedicated goal (number 6) on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

World Water Day is important because it raises public awareness of the wide-ranging impacts of the global water crisis and galvanises the international community to take action and solve it. 

Groundwater must be better protected, explored, analysed and monitored.

Groundwater – making the invisible visible 

On World Water Day 2022, we focus on groundwater – the water stored in subterranean soil and rocks. Not many people realise that groundwater makes up 69% of all the fresh water on Earth. Surface water in rivers and lakes account for only 1% and the remaining 30% is locked away as ice.3 

Dealing with groundwater is especially challenging. On the one hand, humans are over-using and polluting groundwater. On the other, in many places, we simply do not know how much might be under our feet and so we are missing vital opportunities, especially in arid regions. 

Groundwater will play a critical role in building resilience against future challenges. It may be out of sight but cannot be out of mind. Groundwater must be better protected, explored, analysed and monitored. We must make the invisible visible! 

Accelerating towards 2030 

The world’s progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6)  – “to ensure water and sanitation for all” by 2030 – is seriously off track. There is still so much to be done.  

Ultimate responsibility for SDG 6 rests with the UN Member States. The latest data shows that governments must quadruple their efforts if we are to meet our obligations. However, achieving SDG 6 is everyone’s business. Only together can we shape our water future. 

[1] WHO/UNICEF (2021): https://washdata.org/
[2] UN-Water (2021): https://www.unwater.org/publications/summary-progress-update-2021-
[3] UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme (2006)

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