Start planning for a world with a lot less water

Ban Ki-moon was the eighth secretary-general of the United Nations. Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation, an international environmental organization that partners with the public and private sectors to tackle climate change. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. Read more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)World leaders need to start planning for a world with a lot less water. The world's population consumes six times more of this life-sustaining element than our ancestors did 100 years ago, and with population and economic growth, demand continues to rise.

Ban Ki-moon
Furthermore, climate change is playing havoc with the water cycle, disrupting weather systems and rainfall patterns that deliver either too much or too little, and rarely where and when it is needed.
    Patrick Verkooijen
    That is why the theme of this year's United Nations World Water Day is valuing water. This is about considering the value of water for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment. This is important because there is a growing disconnect between the urgency of our water needs for its multiple uses and the resources available to address them.
      This is not due to a lack of capital, expertise or solutions -- all three are available in abundance.
      It is a failure of national and international foresight, planning and cooperation. With a better understanding of the multidimensional values of water, we will be better able to safeguard this critical resource for everyone's benefit.
      Over the last year, we have seen how water is the connecting thread linking the myriad impacts of our health and climate crises. Billions of people on every continent face a future of increasing water scarcity. And the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation.
      At the onset of the pandemic, we were urged to wash our hands frequently -- an instruction that was difficult to obey in the crowded slums of Rio, Nairobi, Jakarta and Mumbai, and by the 3 billion people globally who lack access to basic hand-washing facilities.
      In a world without water, food production stops, cities cease to function, economic activity grinds to a halt and greenery turns to desert. The World Economic Forum's 2020 Global Risks Report, published in January, ranks risks from water crises higher than either infectious diseases or food crises.