Climate change : water and human security at risk

Published on Friday 20 March 2020

By Alicia Piveteau, founder assistant at SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL,

Article extracted from our 2020 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Barometer


Climate change is threatening the planet’s water reserves, a resource that is vital to the proper functioning of our societies. In this century, which is none other than that of demographic explosion and urbanization – two phenomena that are themselves conducive to an increase in the world’s water needs – water is more than ever a central stake.

Our water security is at risk and the figures speak for themselves: 80% of the population is affected by some sort of water insecurity, while a rise in temperatures of between 2.2 and 5.1 degrees is predicted[1]. This global warming induces, on the one hand, the disruption of the water cycle: the evaporation of water is accelerating and consequently the quantity available in its liquid state decreases. On the other hand, meteorological models are being pushed to their limits: rainfall is increasing in high latitudes while mid-latitudes are experiencing a decrease in precipitation.

Inevitably, these climate changes impact our food security. According to figures from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 600 million people will be food insecure due to climate change by 2080. This is in addition to the 821 million people already affected by climate change. Already, a large part of freshwater resources (70% to 90% depending on the country) are dedicated to agricultural activities. Needs will increase to ensure the growing production of biofuels. However, crops, whether rainfed or irrigated, are struggling to adapt to the variability in rainfall caused by climate change.

The lack of water in liquid form is compensated by an excess of water vapor. The phenomenon is not insignificant since it explains, among other things, the intensification of extreme weather events. While droughts and floods are not new, their increasingly unpredictable and devastating nature is one of the manifestations of climate change.

These disruptions increase the vulnerability of populations and leave them destitute in the face of health and food risks. When sanitation systems are destroyed or insufficient, the risk of transmission of water-borne diseases is increased. In this respect, ensuring completely safe access to sanitation for all is a major challenge for the future: 80% of the world’s wastewater is currently discharged into the environment without treatment.

Human activities are also a vector of water pollution: nitrates, phytotoxic algae, pathogens, various chemical products and microplastics are found in 80% of freshwater sources[2]. However, the current increase in water temperature favors the proliferation of this pollution. While the consequences of climate change accentuate global inequalities and imbalances, the decline in water quality is a phenomenon that knows no boundaries.

Ultimately, and according to the conclusions of the 2014 IPCC report, our security is threatened by climate change. Climate displacement, whether caused by the search for arable land and water or by natural disasters, will affect 18 million people in 2018.

[1] 5th assessment report by the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on climate change (IPCC), 2014.

[2] ‘’Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis”, World Bank, 2019.