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Water and climate

The Ngomeni rock water catchment dam in Mwingi district, Kenya, which serves hundreds of households is drying up for the first time in years, according to residents.

Water is essential for people, animals and plants to be able to live, and for every kind of societal and economic development. Yet water in particular is an area where the consequences of climate change are immediately evident – especially in the form of water shortages due to drought and floods brought on by increasingly frequent heavy rainfall.

Already, around four billion people are liable to experience water shortages for at least one month a year. The demand for water is likely to grow by 40 per cent between now and 2030, thereby increasing the pressure on water resources. At the same time, countries like Viet Nam and Bangladesh, other parts of Asia, parts of Central America, and other regions around the world are having to deal more and more often with flooding as a result of heavy rainfall.

Advancing climate change will further intensify these challenges, because climate forecasts predict that, in many places, adverse weather events like droughts and heavy rainfall will become both more frequent and more extreme. Melting glaciers are also having significant consequences. In some parts of Asia and Latin America drinking water supplies could be jeopardised in the long term.

These events have a disproportionate effect on the poor, who frequently live in very high-risk locations, for example on steep slopes, along river banks or in areas vulnerable to drought. They are often unable to recover quickly and fully from the destruction wrought by natural disasters. Furthermore, they often earn their living from agriculture and are therefore dependent on stable and predictable water supplies.

Given this precarious situation, it is hardly surprising that water is the sector that is most often prioritised in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Every year since 2012, the World Economic Forum has cited water crises as one of the top three most impactful risks in its Global Risks Report.

However, it is not just the consequences of climate change that are clearly evident in the water sector. Providing clean drinking water and treating wastewater are two processes that use a lot of energy, causing considerable amounts of greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere. Furthermore, poor or non-existent wastewater management leads to methane and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) being released into the atmosphere; both these gases are extremely harmful to the climate.

That is why one of the aims of the BMZ’s new water strategy is to make even greater use of the high potential of the water sector for achieving climate goals and to reduce climate-induced water risks. Depending on the expected impacts of climate change, suitable adaptation measures may include the protection and sustainable management of water resources, for example by increasing the efficiency of its use, or enhancing natural and technical water storage capacities. Furthermore, by promoting energy efficiency in connection with water supplies and using sustainable methods to treat wastewater, it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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