Climate extremes are not going away during the pandemic and are testing water management to its limits. We need robust interdisciplinary solutions from climate scientists, social scientists, engineers and lawyers sooner rather than later.
The United Nations recently announced that progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 6 on access to clean water and sanitation for all before 2030 is worryingly off track, bringing to light the challenges facing the water sector worldwide. This is concerning, considering the importance of the target, which includes achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, and substantially increasing water-use efficiency across all sectors to address water scarcity.
The challenges facing the water sector not only affect the fulfilment of this goal, but they also have knock-on effects for the achievement of other goals, including those relating to biodiversity, health, food security and gender equality.
Climate change, in particular, presents significant problems for water provision, and UN Water has stated that ‘Water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change’.
Water scarcity is becoming an increasing threat due to changes in rainfall patterns, increasing water demand, and the numerous impacts of rising temperatures and extreme events. Although the effects of COVID-19 have temporarily reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to decreased industrial output and flight cancellations, it won’t be too long before emissions will resume their upward trajectory, despite increasingly dire warnings of the importance of taking action to tackle climate change.
Existing water management practices are already struggling, with the result that cities such as Cape Town, São Paulo and Beijing are being threatened with water insecurity. It is clear that we need to transform our water management systems.