Global Water Crisis Threatens $58 Trillion in Economic Value and Food Security

  • 19 Oct 2023

A recent report titled "The High Cost of Cheap Water," issued by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on World Food Day, warns of a growing global water crisis jeopardizing $58 trillion in economic value, food security, and sustainability.

Key Points

  • Economic Value at Stake: This $58 trillion estimate represents the first-ever annual valuation of the economic importance of water and freshwater ecosystems, equivalent to 60% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Critical Threats to Water Ecosystems: Rivers, lakes, wetlands, and aquifers are facing severe degradation, endangering their economic value and their indispensable roles in upholding food security, human well-being, and planetary health.
  • Direct and Indirect Economic Benefits: Direct economic benefits derived from water utilization, encompassing household consumption, irrigation, and industrial processes, constitute a minimum of $7.5 trillion annually.
  • Additionally, unquantifiable benefits such as water purification, soil health improvement, carbon sequestration, and the protection against floods and droughts are valued at approximately $50 trillion annually.
  • Devastating Loss of Wetlands and Wildlife: Over the past half-century, the world has experienced a 30% decline in its remaining wetlands, accompanied by an alarming 83% average decrease in freshwater wildlife populations.
  • These developments contribute to escalating water shortages, food insecurity, the dwindling availability of freshwater fisheries, and an increase in pollution.
  • Agriculture's Role in the Crisis: Unsustainable agricultural practices, responsible for consuming more than 70% of the world's freshwater resources, are a primary contributor to the degradation of rivers and floodplains.
  • Over-extraction of water for irrigation diminishes its availability for other critical purposes, including sustaining natural flows that support fisheries.
  • Agricultural expansion into floodplains has compromised the natural flood and drought mitigation capacity of river systems.
  • Recommendations for a Sustainable Future: The report underscores the need to safeguard and rehabilitate rivers, floodplains, and natural water retention measures to secure agricultural productivity and food security.
  • Promoting Sustainable Practices: Adopting sustainable land use practices and diets that reduce the demand for water-intensive products are advocated as strategies to address these challenges.
  • Role of Healthy Water Ecosystems in Climate Adaptation: The report emphasizes the indispensable role of healthy water ecosystems in climate adaptation. Such ecosystems mitigate extreme floods, build resilience to droughts, protect against storms and erosion, regulate temperatures and microclimates, and sustain crucial delta regions.