Water: transforming a global emergency into a key tool for sustainable development

Global Water Emergency


The worldwide use of water rapidly grows and, according to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), water demand will increase by 55% between 2015 and 2050.


“If the balance between demand and limited stock will be not restored, the world will face an extremely serious global deficit of water”


(UNESCO, Water Report 2015)


This is mainly due to the intensification in demand by the manufacturing sector, because of the fossil fuel based generation of electricity, agricultural and domestic consumption, which dramatically increase the human pressure on available and limited sources of fresh water.

While the available amount of water is severely reducing, water quality deteriorates, basically because of climate change, industrial, urban and agricultural pollution (which now affects 90% of river basin districts in Europe only), increase of population and migratory flows.

Women and young girls in many poor areas often spend many hours every day to reach clean water sources that causes harmful health and economic consequences to their lives.


“The gap between water availability and water demand is growing fast, especially in cities, where the urban population is expected to nearly quadruple by 2037”

The United Nation World Water Development Report 2017

As a consequence, today 2/3 of the world population lives in areas suffering from water scarcity and on average 80% of the used water (in some LDCs even 95%) is released into the environment without any treatment, causing enormous damage both to the environment and to human health.


 “Currently, millions of tons of active pesticides ingredients are used in agriculture and causes of acute pesticide poisoning account for significant morbidity and mortality worldwide, especially in developing countries”


 The United Nation World Water Development Report 2017


Local and global stability, peace and security are strongly jeopardised by water related issues and this threat will definitely grow if efficient systems of water diplomacy, governance and management will not be put in place.

Moreover, increasingly in frequency and intensity climate change effects, such as drought, floods and other destructive natural disasters connected to the water domain, induce people to migrate for surviving. Massive migrations can cause social tensions and economic instability.

Climate change, economy (industry and agriculture), energy, gender issues and migrations, peace: everything is strictly connected to water management.


Two out of seventeen SDGs are directly connected to water, while 13 out of 17 cannot be reached without properly addressing long-standing and emerging water challenges.



Goal 1: No Poverty

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being



Unachievable without proper water management 


Goal 4: Quality Education




Goal 5: Gender Equality



Unachievable without proper water management 


Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation



Directly connected to water management


Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Goal 13: Climate Action



Unachievable without proper water management 


Goal 14: Life Below Water



Directly connected to water management


Goal 15: Life on Land

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions



Unachievable without proper water management 


Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals





 It is therefore evident that the development of efficient systems of water management becomes absolutely essential.

Efficient systems of water management: what does it mean?


It means to prevent alarming crisis able to destabilise equilibria and jeopardise the development and the economic growth of entire geographical areas, with high risks especially for specific zones such as Africa.



It means to save inestimable and huge economic resources that, today, are invested to cope with all the social, health, economic, environmental and political consequences generated by incorrect or ineffective water management systems.


 To put in place, on a global scale as well as at local level, new models of water management is much less expensive than facing the growing costs of ineffective and distressing systems.


(Unsustainable water management) “has a huge economic toll. Forty billion work hours are lost in Africa each year to the need to carry water. In India, water-borne diseases cost an annual $600 million in lost production and medical treatment.


Without access to safe water and adequate sanitation, families remain mired in deplorable conditions. Young children die from preventable diseases. Those who survive are often unable to learn in school or succeed in life because of the legacy of ill health in their early years and the burden of recurring illnesses”.



To the costs and the losses directly related to human resources, we have to add those coming from the agricultural sector, caused by drought and floods; from the industrial sector, created by water and energy scarcity; from the still extensive productions of non-renewable energy; from massive destabilisations, migrations and conflicts due to environmental disasters connected to water.


“... nearly 80% of the jobs constituting the global workforce are dependent upon having access to an adequate supply of water and water related services, including sanitation".


Irina Bokova, Unesco General Director, UN Water report 2016: Water and Jobs.


It means to transform the management of water in a key driver for economic growth and development.


 Waste water can become a real engine of economic grow since:

  • It can be treated and reused for agricultural needs
  • It can be reused for industrial needs
  • It can be reused to produce clean energy
  • Important components can be extracted from waste water, sold and reintroduced into markets (like phosphorus, azote, metals, nutrients)


“Improved wastewater management generates social, environmental and economic benefits, and is essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”



Efficient systems of water management: what are the benefits?

Efficient systems of water governance and water management may allow:


Governments to save considerable financial resources, which are today invested to deal with the multilevel damages due to non-functional mechanisms of water management; To reduce the overall level of socio economic insecurity and uncertainty (food insecurity, natural disasters, floods, drought, massive migrations, conflicts, critical health conditions, gender vulnerability); To accelerate the achievement of the SDGs; To increase self-sufficiency in energy; To strengthen and accelerate the process of local growth and development; To gain access to specific funds earmarked for innovation and technological development related to the management of the water; To become regional models, replicable, scalable and attractive for investors.


Industries to reduce production costs; To secure the availability of the needed energy; To increase production; To decrease the levels of insecurity and precariousness; To develop networks and partnerships, and to integrate resources; To reduce the pressure and the negative impact on the environment; To obtain access to funds for technological innovation systems and production processes; To extend their markets.


Agriculture to improve and increase food production, and consequently to reduce poverty and health diseases; To considerably ameliorate hygiene and sanitation conditions; To reduce the human pressure and negative impact on the environment; To decrease risks, instability and vulnerability;


Universities to develop new training courses for professionals highly specialised in water sector (increasing regional visibility and attracting students); To activate new services and research centers; To set up international multi-stakeholders partnerships; To obtain access to funds for research, innovation and development;


Markets to expand trades in water, energy and raw materials; To benefit from the development of new professional profiles directly or indirectly connected to water management and from the growing demand for experts in green and hybrid infrastructures and nature based solutions;


Utilities to extend, integrate and differentiate their offer of services ; To develop new expertise and partnerships;


Research centers to obtain access to local and international funds for research and innovation; To develop new partnerships with the private and public sectors; To broaden the range of activities for supporting local growth.


To fully exploit research outcomes and to put in practice innovative technology, for developing new systems of water governance and management, it urges to globally spread knowledge and build key capacities through effective training programs.