Water Scarcity Discussed at UN, Projects Addressing Scarcity in India and Greece
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Discussions during the UN General Assembly’s high-level week addressed the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal on clean water and sanitation (SDG 6).

The Global Water Partnership Mediterranean (GWP-Med) reported that its Non-Conventional Water Resources (NCWR) programme has helped address local water scarcity problems on 31 Greek islands.

In India, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is using artificial wetlands technology to treat wastewater for irrigation.

3 October 2017: Discussions during the opening week of the UN General Assembly addressed the impacts of climate change, pollution, and growing water demand on the availability of water. To help alleviate water scarcity, the Global Water Partnership (GWP) is supporting the construction of local storage reservoirs and water-saving campaigns in the Greek islands, while the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a research center of CGIAR, is creating “constructed wetlands” in India.

On 21 September, the High-level Panel on Water (HLPW) convened for the fourth time in New York, US. Addressing the HLPW, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted that approximately 40% of the global population experiences water scarcity, with severe impacts for health and hygiene. He cited figures that 2.1 billion people still do not have access to safe drinking water, and more than 800,000 people, including over 340,000 children, die annually from diseases caused by unsafe water, lack of sanitation, or poor hygiene practices.

Delegates’ discussions at this and other events during the UN General Assembly’s high-level week addressed the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal on clean water and sanitation (SDG 6). Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), noted that water scarcity issues are presenting ever greater challenges, and highlighted the potential for water scarcity to become a source of future conflict. He called on the international community to rise to the challenge of addressing the varied distribution of water resources around the world, so that water becomes a source of cooperation and “an opportunity for mutual positive interdependence.”

In the same week, Miroslav Lajčák, UN General Assembly President, marked the launch of the second International Decade of Action on ‘Water for Sustainable Development,’ which will be observed from 2018-2028.

In related news, the Global Water Partnership Mediterranean (GWP-Med) reported, on 3 October, that its Non-Conventional Water Resources (NCWR) programme has helped address local water scarcity problems on 31 Greek islands. The programme, which has been carried out with the support of the Coca-Cola Foundation, has built local reservoirs to increase water storage capacity. Water resources on some islands, including Kythera and Antikythera, has been under pressure due to a two-year drought and a large fire on Kythera. In response to the challenges, GWP-Med has worked with local residents to share water-saving ideas, and has supported a local campaign to raise awareness of water scarcity issues.

The NCWR programme seeks to promote cost-effective and replicable practices that respond to water scarcity across the Mediterranean region. The programme has been running since 2008 and works in four countries: Cyprus, Italy, Greece and Malta.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has made “constructed wetlands” to serve as local-level wastewater treatment plants in India. A 2015 study by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) found that farmers rely on wastewater for irrigation to a greater extent than previously believed. The IWMI study showed that 65% of irrigated croplands in the world depend on wastewater, and a majority of these – 86% – are in China, India, Iran, Mexico and Pakistan. Using untreated wastewater for irrigation carries a risk of bacterial contamination of raw vegetables, and poses a health risk to consumers.

“Constructed wetlands” technology means that water availability is predictable and farmers are able to grow a greater variety of crops and diversify their income sources.

The ICRISAT project has made “constructed wetlands” that use sand or gravel beds to grow wetland plants. Wastewater to be used for irrigation is filtered through these beds and is then made available to farmers that previously depended only on rainfall. The technology means that water availability is predictable and farmers are able to grow a greater variety of crops and diversify their income sources. It has also helped to overcome the stigma against the use of wastewater for irrigation. The technology has been devised through the joint ‘Water4Crops’ research project between the Government of India and the European Commission. [DESA Press Release] [GWP Press Release] [ICRISAT Press Release]


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