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Worldwide water crisis is looming-as many as 4 billion people worldwide suffer water scarcity

Our planet might be blue, but we may still be left thirsty. While almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, less than 3 per cent of that resource is actually freshwater, of which maybe only 1 per cent is readily accessible. We depend on that 1 per cent.

The World Bank estimates that water scarcity exacerbated by climate change could cost some regions in Africa up to 6 per cent of GDP by 2050 due to impacts on agriculture, health, and incomes. This is in addition to the very low baseline, where sub-Saharan Africa will require investments of some 2.7 per cent of GDP, or $7 billion annually, to reach goals of water and sanitation.

For many, sadly, things might only get worse, before they get better. Mark Fletcher, global water leader at Arup, says: “Growing water scarcity is an overarching global problem. At least two thirds of the world’s population will face ‘water stress’ by 2025 and the number of people affected by floods could increase by a factor of three by 2100.”

In its ranking of the top five global risks of greatest concern over the next ten years, the World Economic Forum rated water crises number one, marginally higher than failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and significantly ahead of extreme weather and food crises. All four risks are interrelated.

Alongside climate-related effects, there are two other major global megatrends accelerating impact of water scarcity worldwide – population growth and urbanisation.

More than half the world’s rising population already lives in cities and that proportion is forecast to grow towards 66 per cent by 2050. This will mean more than two billion extra inhabitants needing water for drinking, washing and food preparation. The UN predicts close to 90 per cent of this increase will be concentrated in Asia and Africa.

Water stress as a result of urbanisation cuts across all climate maps and geographies. For instance, cities in Brazil, a country famous for rainforests and home to one eighth of the world’s freshwater, are surprisingly experiencing drought conditions similar to those faced in Iran, known for its deserts.

São Paulo, located in the south east of Brazil and the largest megacity of the southern hemisphere, has been wrestling with the effects of the worst drought for generations. Equally, Tehran, capital of Iran, and now home to over one tenth of its population, is once again warning citizens about water rationing.

Read more from the latest  RACONTEUR report " Future of water".