Water Industry News

Nature-Based Solutions To The Water Crisis

As time goes on, the global water crisis will only become increasingly more acute, with the situation exacerbated by climate change and the degradation of freshwater ecosystems all over the world… and yet, according to a new report, this fact has not yet translated into businesses and governments taking meaningful action to tackle the problem.


Carried out by WWF and the Boston Consulting Group, the study – Nature-Based Solutions to the Water Crisis – has revealed that there is now compelling evidence to suggest that nature-based solutions have a huge amount of potential for mitigating water security pressures.


Water-related risks have been at the top of the World Economic Forum’s global risk assessment for more than a decade, in terms of the likelihood and severity of impact on 21st century society. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that water-related risks will likely rise in line with every degree of global warming that takes place.


As such, finding solutions to address the situation is becoming increasingly paramount – and nature-based measures seem to be one of the best ways of going about doing so.


These actions are successful at protecting, restoring and sustainably managing natural/modified ecosystems, as well as addressing societal challenges and delivering benefits for both people and biodiversity alike.


They also help to protect against extreme flooding and periods of drought, while improving water supply and quality, promoting local biodiversity, enhancing coastal storm protection and protection against rising sea levels, and regenerating freshwater ecosystems.


The study also highlighted that unless interventions are carried out by 2030, 1.6 billion people will not have access to safely managed drinking water, while 2.8 billion will lack access to safely managed sanitation.


By 2050, 23 per cent of the area set aside for rice production will face high water scarcity risks, as will 42 per cent of the area designated for wheat production.


And by 2070, it is expected that there will be a 26 per cent increase in harmful pollutants in river basins and a six per cent drop in areas that have high aquatic biodiversity.


Torsten Kurth, BCG managing director and co-author of the report, said: “The recent UN Water Conference underscored the urgent need to find bold solutions to the global water crisis.

“But it’s time to stop admiring the problem. It is critical that we shift from an outdated, reactive, risk-based approach to water management to implementing and scaling resilient, nature-based solutions to water challenges.”


What’s the solution?


Up until now, governments and businesses around the world have adopted a more reactive and risk-based approach to water management, choosing to focus on the economic consequences of extreme weather events like flooding and drought, without paying much consideration to the environmental impacts.


But this new report is now calling for them to change their mindset, shifting from risk to resilience instead.


In contrast to the risk-based strategy, which minimises economic costs, damages parallel ecosystem services and takes a short-term approach to reducing the risk of water hazards, the resilience-based strategy integrates social and environmental metrics, as well as delivering benefits for water filtration, biodiversity and tourism, while driving an adaptive long-term strategy for water management.


In order to develop nature-based solutions and build resilience into the water system, collaboration must occur between the private and public sectors, as well as financial institutions and non-governmental organisations.


A four-step action plan was put forth in this new report to help drive progress on water security, with the aim being to drastically increase investment in nature-based solutions.


These four steps are:


– Prioritising water as a key lever for adapting to climate change, becoming nature positive and building resilience


– Adopt nature-based locally led innovations


– Bring in nature-based solutions as part of infrastructure projects for water security


– Scale investments in nature-based solutions to improve water security and create resilient ecosystems


Stuart Orr, WWF global freshwater lead, provided further comment on the study, saying: “Drastically scaling up investment in healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands is fundamental to ensuring water for all in an increasingly water-stressed world. But protecting and restoring healthy freshwater ecosystems will do more than keep the taps and pumps flowing.


“Our freshwater life support systems are central to food security, adapting to increasing climate change-related droughts and floods and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015 to provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity, made up of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


The sixth of these acknowledges that access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene is the most basic of all human needs for health and wellbeing. However, there are still billions of people all around the world that don’t have access to these basic services… and this will continue to be the case unless action is taken and now.


A recent report from the World Health Organization and UN-Water found that acceleration is now required from many countries all over the world in order to achieve this goal, with just 25 per cent currently on track to hit their targets for sanitation.


The situation is also being exacerbated by climate change, with water-related issues being increasingly highlighted by more frequent and more extreme weather events, further emphasising the importance of global cooperation and a whole-of-society approach to tackling the issue head on.


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