The World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday in its first annual State of Global Water Resources report that every region of the world suffered water extremes last year as the climate crisis intensified flooding and droughts, inflicting deadly damage on the most heavily impacted areas.
“In 2021, all regions experienced significant hydrological extremes in the form of floods and droughts, having substantial impacts on communities, including numerous fatalities,” the WMO, a United Nations agency, notes in its new report. “Record-breaking floods were observed in western Europe and in the northern Amazon. At the same time, the Paraguay and Paraná Rivers experienced all-time record low water levels.”
Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the WMO, attributed last year’s global water extremes to “the impacts of climate change,” which he noted are “often felt through water—more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers—with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems, and all aspects of our daily lives.”
Extreme weather around the world
To mitigate the impacts of water-related extreme weather events—which have continued to wreak havoc on a massive scale in 2022—the WMO urged countries to “accelerate development of end-to-end drought and flood early warning systems for reducing the impact of hydrological extremes on people, lives and livelihoods, ecosystems, and the economy at large in all parts of the world.”
The report also focused on dangerous shortages of freshwater access, a growing emergency made worse by increasingly intense and frequent extreme weather.
The WMO estimates that 3.6 billion people across the globe lack adequate access to clean water for at least one month each year, a number that’s expected to surpass 5 billion by 2050 without urgent action from policymakers.
For the first time in the history of the U.N. climate conferences, water scarcity was on the agenda at the recently concluded COP27 summit in Egypt as drought-stricken nations teamed up to work on solutions to the crisis. As Reuters reported earlier this month, Senegal and Spain formed an alliance “to help each other manage water scarcity by sharing technology and expertise.”
“By 2050, weather disturbances, including drought as well as heavy winds and rains, could cost the global economy some $5.6 trillion, a report published in August by environmental engineering consultancy GHD found,” Reuters noted.
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