…𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒇𝒊𝒓𝒔𝒕-𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓 𝒂𝒏𝒏𝒖𝒂𝒍 𝒆𝒔𝒕𝒊𝒎𝒂𝒕𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒆𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒐𝒎𝒊𝒄 𝒗𝒂𝒍𝒖𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒘𝒂𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒇𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒉𝒘𝒂𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒆𝒄𝒐𝒔𝒚𝒔𝒕𝒆𝒎𝒔 𝒊𝒔 𝑼𝑺$58 𝒕𝒓𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒊𝒐𝒏, 𝒆𝒒𝒖𝒊𝒗𝒂𝒍𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝒕𝒐 60% 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒈𝒍𝒐𝒃𝒂𝒍 𝑮𝑫𝑷
Water, the world’s most precious yet undervalued resource, is at the heart of a mounting global crisis that threatens both human and planetary health, as warned by a new report published by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), on World Food Day. The report, titled ‘The High Cost of Cheap Water,’ reveals a stark reality: the annual economic value of water and freshwater ecosystems is estimated at US$58 trillion, equivalent to 60% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
However, the world’s freshwater ecosystems are in a downward spiral, posing an ever-growing risk to these values.
Since 1970, the world has lost one-third of its remaining wetlands, while freshwater wildlife populations have, on average, dropped by 83%. This disastrous trend has contributed to a growing number of people facing water shortages and food insecurity. Rivers and lakes have dried up, pollution has increased, and food sources, such as freshwater fisheries, have dwindled. Moreover, this trend exacerbates economic pressures and undermines global efforts to reverse nature loss and adapt to the worsening impacts of climate change- ranging from devastating droughts and extreme floods to sea level rise.
“Water is one of the cornerstones upon which our shared future stands,” said Dr. Kirsten Schuijt, WWF International’s Director-General. WWF’s report reveals the staggering underlying value of water and freshwater ecosystems to our global economy and environment. Healthy rivers, lakes, and wetlands are essential for water and food security, adapting to climate change, and sustaining biodiversity. They also provide priceless cultural and spiritual values that are vital to people’s wellbeing worldwide.
“It is time for governments, businesses, and financial institutions to invest in protecting and restoring our freshwater ecosystems to ensure we build a future where water flows abundantly for all,” added Schuijt.
The report finds that direct economic benefits, such as water consumption for households, irrigated agriculture, and industries, amount to a minimum of US$7.5 trillion annually. It also estimates that the unseen benefits, including water purification, enhanced soil health, carbon storage, and protection from extreme floods and droughts, are seven times higher, at approximately US$50 trillion annually.
However, the degradation of rivers, lakes, wetlands, and groundwater aquifers is threatening these values and undermining action on climate and nature, hampering progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Unsustainable extraction of water, harmful subsidies, and alterations to river flows, pollution, and climate change-related impacts are endangering freshwater ecosystems. Shockingly, two-thirds of the world’s largest rivers are no longer free-flowing, and wetlands continue to be lost three times as fast as forests.
Combined with poor water management, the destruction of freshwater ecosystems has left billions of people worldwide lacking access to clean water and sanitation, while water risks to businesses and economies are increasing. By 2050, approximately 46% of global GDP could come from areas facing high-water risk, up from the current 10%.
To address the global water crisis, WWF calls on governments, businesses, and financial institutions to urgently increase investment in sustainable water infrastructure. However, it cautions against outdated thinking, which solely focuses on more built infrastructure and ignores the source of the problem-degraded rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
The key lies in reversing the ongoing loss of freshwater ecosystems. For example, governments should join the Freshwater Challenge, a country-led initiative that aims to restore 300,000km of degraded rivers and 350 million hectares of degraded wetlands globally by 2030 and protect intact freshwater ecosystems. Meanwhile, businesses must transform their approach to water and scale up collective action to build more resilient river basins.
“Water and freshwater ecosystems are not only fundamental to our economies, but also the lifeblood of our planet and our future,” said Stuart Orr, WWF Global Freshwater Lead. “We need to remember that water does not come from a tap- it comes from nature. Water for all depends on healthy freshwater ecosystems, which are also the foundation of food security, biodiversity hotspots, and the best buffer and insurance against intensifying climate impacts. Reversing the loss of freshwater ecosystems will pave the way for a more resilient, nature-positive, and sustainable future for all,” he added.
Bhutan is known to the world as a water-rich nation with a per capita availability of 94,508 cubic meters per person per year. Over 90 percent of water is used in the agriculture sector, playing a vital role in the country’s agriculture, which employs over 60 percent of the rural population. Water also holds a crucial role in Bhutan’s economy, with 99 percent of electricity generated through hydropower, making it one of the highest revenue sources for the country. An estimated 20 percent of non-hydropower revenues come from tourism, largely driven by Bhutan’s pristine natural landscapes.
It is evident that Bhutan derives numerous direct and indirect benefits from water and freshwater ecosystems. Therefore, it’s time for Bhutan to reevaluate how they value and invest in water and freshwater ecosystems to ensure the health of their water systems. As highlighted in the report, freshwater ecosystems have the potential to enhance food security and mitigate floods and droughts. These events are becoming more common due to the worsening climate crisis.