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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 human life, healthy ecosystems and economic development. Climate change has direct impacts on the water cycle. Water shortages and water abundance in the form of flooding and heavy rainfall events can be intensified by these impacts. Advancing climate change will exacerbate the situation, because experts project that adverse weather events will become even more frequent and more extreme in many parts of the world. The World Economic Forum ranks water crises since 2012 among the five most relevant global risks in terms of impact. Accordingly, water is the most prioritised sector by developing countries in the adaptation components of the Nationally Determined Contributions.

Extreme weather has a disproportionate effect on the poor, who often live in high-risk locations on steep slopes, along river banks or in areas vulnerable to drought. They are often not in a position to quickly and fully recover from climate-related shocks. In additions, their income often depends on agriculture, which in turn relies on a stable and predictable water supply.

The melting of glaciers is also having significant consequences on water resources; in Asia and Latin America it could in the long term jeopardise the supply of drinking water. Lima, the capital of Peru, is one of the potentially affected cities.

It is not only the case that water-related events highlight the consequences of climate change; the treatment and distribution of water is an energy-intensive process that produces a significant amount of greenhouse gases, for instance through pumping systems.

Feeding a growing number of people will require a more efficient use of water resources. The demand for water is expected to increase by 40 per cent by 2030. According to the UN, by 2025 about 1.8 billion people will be living in countries facing absolute water scarcity. Agriculture alone is currently responsible for about 70 per cent of all water use worldwide.

Using water efficiently – which includes reducing distribution and energy losses – is therefore an important element of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

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