The world must confront a looming water shortage or the political impact may be devastating. That’s the warning from a new report issued jointly this week by the InterAction Council (IAC), a group of 40 prominent former government leaders and heads of state, United Nations University, and Canada’s Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.

Former Canadian Prime Minister and IAC co-chair Jean Chrétien, said, the impact of water scarcity “will lead to some conflicts. Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in the future. The IAC is calling on the United Nations Security Council to recognize water as one of the top security concerns facing the global community.”

The report, “The Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue,” compiles many factors contributing to deteriorating water security worldwide, and 23 international water experts identify a host of serious security, development and social risks associated with the water crisis, including food, health, energy and equity issues.

Specifically, the report says the world will have an additional 1 billion mouths to feed by 2025, which means the world must find the equivalent of the flow of 20 Nile Rivers or 100 Colorado Rivers by then to grow the necessary food.

The report said the greatest growth in demand for water would be in China, the United States and India due to population growth, increasing irrigation and economic growth.

“By 2030, demand for water in India and China, the most populous nations on Earth, will exceed their current supplies,” the report said. The authors also suggested global warming, due to human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, would aggravate the problems.

Chrétien said, “Starting to manage water resources more effectively and efficiently now will enable humanity to better respond to today’s problems and to the surprises we can expect in a warming world.”

The report calls on Governments and international institutions to:

  • Radically reform attitudes toward water and how it is managed globally, including programs to reduce demand through conservation, efficiency, re-use and the replenishment of natural systems;
  • Increase annual investment in water supply and sanitation-related efforts by approximately $11 billion;
  • Create an international governance mechanism and relevant institutions to cope with the growing number of environmental migrants foreseen in years to come;
  • Create new water governance alliances between public, private and civil society sectors, emphasizing the participation of women;
  • Pursue a “Blue Economy” economic paradigm in which water sustainability is rewarded;
  • Underline the need among government and finance leaders to understand the relationship between clean, safe water and health, development and national economic well-being.

Zafar Adeel, director of the United Nations University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, says the main challenge facing agriculture “is not so much growing 70 percent more food in 40 years, but making 70 percent more food available on the plate. Reducing losses in storage and along the value chain may go a long way towards offsetting the need for more production.”

Projections vary significantly, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates an 11 percent increase in irrigation water consumption from 2008 to 2050, Adeel says. This is expected to result in a roughly 5 percent increase in water withdrawals for irrigation.

“Although this seems a modest increase, much of it will occur in regions already suffering from water scarcity,” Adeel says. “Water security requires long-term political ownership and commitment, recognition of water’s key role in development and human security, and budget allocations appropriate to the fundamental importance of water to every living thing.”