The pandemic is laying bare a global water crisis

Water crises were ranked above both infectious diseases and food crises in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Risks Report. This year, the world is likely to see all three.

Without a treatment or a vaccine, the primary advice to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is regular hand-washing and good hygiene. But this is out of reach for millions of Ethiopians living without sustainable access to clean water, laying bare the critical link between water and public health.

Compromises around water use are seen across economic sectors, and this has become more acute during the pandemic. Demand for food from a rising global population will only continue to grow after the outbreak has subsided, meaning water resources will have to be more carefully managed to ensure irrigation for crops does not come at the cost of household hygiene.

Building a post-coronavirus economy means reimagining how producers and consumers value water and water security, and how we might grow economies more equitably and safely. But changing directions will not be easy. Public finance and political commitment will have to come to the fore, combined with new investment partnerships and stronger governance at all levels. Exploiting and governing new technologies effectively will also be essential to support longer-term transformations required to better manage the world’s water resources.

This article is authored by Alan Nicol, a strategic program leader with the International Water Management Institute.

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