Ahead of World Water Day Monday, the World Meteorological Organization warns climate change is intensifying water-related disasters, threatening the lives and livelihoods of billions of people worldwide.
Climate-related hazards include increased flooding and longer-lasting droughts. Climate change also is altering rainfall patterns, affecting water availability and worsening the damage floods and drought cause worldwide.
The WMO says increased flooding threatens to destroy water points and sanitation facilities and contaminate water sources. As a consequence, WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis says billions of people have limited or no access to clean water and sanitation.
“So, 39 percent of the global population does not have access to safe drinking water. We expect this problem to be exacerbated because of socio-economic changes, of population growth, and obviously, changes in sources of water, such as glaciers,” Nullis said.
The WMO calls glaciers the water towers of the world. It warns the melting of ice cover and glaciers is leading to more hazards and threatening the long-term water security of hundreds of millions of people.
Nullis said one of the most dramatic examples of how this is playing out can be seen in Tajikistan, a country that had more than 14,500 glaciers in the 20th century.
“Today, more than a thousand of these have completely melted and the total volume of the mass has decreased by one-third. This in the short term leads to more hazards like avalanches, mud flows, flooding—what we call glacial outbursts,” Nullis said.
Glaciers are a key source of water. In the long-term, Nullis warned glacier melting will lead to increased water stress for many millions of people. She said the same phenomenon is being repeated throughout the world.
The WMO says more than half of countries worldwide have no quality management systems for water. The agency is calling for more concerted action on safeguarding the world’s diminishing water sources and on mitigating climate change.