In a world grappling with myriad challenges, a silent crisis is taking root, and its impact is more profound than we may comprehend. The WWF’s latest report, “The High Cost of Cheap Water,” serves as an urgent call to action, exposing the alarming threats posed by the global water crisis to the economy and the environment. Since 1970, the planet has witnessed a devastating loss of one-third of its remaining wetlands, accompanied by an alarming 83% decline in freshwater wildlife populations. These grim statistics are not merely ecological concerns; they translate into a colossal economic risk. The report estimates the annual economic value of water and freshwater ecosystems to be a staggering US$58 trillion, equivalent to 60% of the global GDP. Dr. Kirsten Schuijt, WWF International’s Director-General, emphasises the pivotal importance of water, stating, “Healthy rivers, lakes, and wetlands are essential for water and food security, adapting to climate change, and sustaining biodiversity.” The report underscores that these ecosystems also provide priceless cultural and spiritual values vital to people’s wellbeing worldwide. The immediate economic benefits of water, including household consumption, irrigated agriculture, and industries, are estimated at a minimum of US$7.5 trillion annually. However, the unseen benefits such as water purification, soil health enhancement, carbon storage, and protection against extreme floods and droughts amount to a staggering US$50 trillion annually. The report highlights alarming trends: two-thirds of the world’s largest rivers are no longer free-flowing, and wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. Billions of people worldwide lack access to clean water and sanitation due to poor water management and the destruction of freshwater ecosystems. Looking ahead, the report warns that by 2050, approximately 46% of global GDP could originate from areas facing high-water risk, a significant increase from the current 10%. To tackle this crisis head-on, WWF calls for increased investment in sustainable water infrastructure from governments, businesses, and financial institutions. Stuart Orr, WWF Global Freshwater Lead, emphasises that water is not just a resource from a tap but comes from nature. “Reversing the loss of freshwater ecosystems will pave the way to a more resilient, nature-positive, and sustainable future for all,” he states. The report advocates for global initiatives like the Freshwater Challenge, aiming to restore 300,000 km of degraded rivers and 350 million hectares of degraded wetlands by 2030. As the world grapples with a mounting water crisis, this report serves as a wake-up call, urging swift and decisive action to ensure the preservation of this vital resource for current and future generations. IOL Environment

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