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Water use, economic growth decoupling must to avoid crisis

New Delhi : Half the world will face severe water stress by 2030 unless water use is 'decoupled” from economic growth, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)-hosted International Resource Panel (IRP) has warned.

If current levels of water consumption and pollution continue, almost half of the world's population will be facing severe water stress by 2030 as a combination of population growth, increased urbanization, climate change and a shift in how food is consumed will dramatically increase future demand for water, a new report by the IRP said.

By 2030, water demand will exceed supply by 40 per cent, forcing governments to spend $200 billion per year on upstream water supply, compared to historic averages of $40 to $45 billion. Already poor areas like Sub-Saharan Africa could be especially hard hit.

“Decoupling human well-being from water use and impacts is at the heart of the recently approved Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for water and is necessary to avert the crisis", the report - Policy Options for Decoupling Economic Growth from Water Use and Water Pollution -- said.

The most cost-effective way of achieving this is for governments to create holistic water management plans that take into account the entire water cycle, from source to distribution, economic use, treatment, recycling, reuse and return to the environment.

The UNEP-hosted IRP – a consortium of 27 internationally renowned scientists, 33 national governments and other groups – says that in sub-Saharan Africa, a region struggling to cope with the impacts of climate change and poverty, water demand is expected to rise by 283 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030.

So, efforts to decouple water use from economic growth will need to be strengthened.

Some countries have already proven that decoupling water use from economic growth is possible. For example, in Australia, water consumption declined by 40 per cent between 2001 and 2009 while the economy grew by more than 30 per cent.

But “no single policy or set of practices will achieve resource or impact decoupling at the global, national and regional scales simultaneously," because “inherent complexities, uncertainties and ignorance still limit current understanding of hydrological cycles and the complex relationships of water with other sectors", the report noted.

“Reliable access to clean water is a cornerstone of sustainable development. When clean water is consistently unavailable, the world’s poorest must spend much of their disposable income buying it, or a large amount of time transporting it, which limits development", said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"And since only half of one per cent of the world’s freshwater is available for the needs of both humanity and ecosystems, we will need to do more and better with less if we are to ensure healthy ecosystems, healthy populations and economic development.”

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The successes in Greece and Indonesia demonstrate civil society wants to keep water in public hands. And yet the World Bank continues its dogmatic promotion of privatization.

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