World Water Week 2022: a key milestone for the global water agenda

August 18, 2022


World Water Week 2022: a key milestone for the global water agenda

August 18, 2022

Matus Samel

Senior manager, Policy and insights , Economist Impact

Matus is a manager on the Policy & Insights team at Economist Impact, based in London. He oversees the execution of projects focused on economic development, sustainable growth, and international trade. Matus has delivered programmes for a number of international clients, including the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), USAID, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC), UNICEF, Global Water Partnership (GWP), and many others. Prior to joining the EIU, Matus worked on energy policy, sustainable development, and international trade projects at UNESCAP, Chatham House and Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center. He holds a Master's degree in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where he specialised in economic development, energy policy and international trade and competitiveness.

As the world experiences unprecedented droughts and heatwaves, the water policy community gathers at a critical time in the run up to COP-27 to discuss the economic, social and environmental value of water.

The importance of water for people and development

This summer, the extreme weather around the world is a stark reminder of the vast human cost of inadequate water provisions. The that in 2022 more than 2.3bn people face water stress and almost 160m children are exposed to severe and prolonged droughts. The situation is getting worse with the number and duration of droughts increasing by 29% since 2000—by 2050 droughts may affect more than three-quarters of the world’s population. 

This exposure to water scarcity has a major effect on well-being. The World Health Organisation (WHO) that inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services may lead to 1.9m preventable deaths annually—children being particularly vulnerable. The protracted droughts are threatening food production in where droughts used to be rare. This has coincided with those facing acute food insecurity—people whose limited access to food has put their lives and livelihoods  at risk—increasing to 345m across 82 countries, according to the .

Drawing attention to these issues is essential as efforts towards achieving , which is aiming for the sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030, are not on track. The that governments must quadruple their current progress to be on course to realise SDG6 goals. This will require significant political efforts and financing—an estimated , which is three times more than the current investment in water-related infrastructure.


The economic value of water

Along with the enormous human toll, water stress is undermining global economic growth and development. As highlighted in Economist Impact’s and , adequate access to water is crucial for agriculture, energy, manufacturing and service industries, but also for long-term economic productivity. that vulnerable regions, such as Central and East Asia, the Middle East and the Sahel in Africa could see their economic growth rates decrease by as much as 6% of GDP by 2050. This is due to water-related effects on agriculture, health and incomes. The that droughts caused global economic losses of an estimated $124bn between 1998 and 2017, so growing water scarcity might push millions of people into poverty—particularly in fragile regions.

Inadequate water supply also exacerbates the cycles of water insecurity and fragility that are a long-term barrier to economic growth. The that 700m people by 2030 will be displaced by drought. The resulting influx of migrants and refugees from drought-affected areas can add even more pressure on municipal infrastructure and services such as housing, healthcare, education, water and sanitation. Furthermore, migration, displacement and disagreement over water rights can within and between countries, which can significantly undermine economic development. For example, the cost of inaction on water cooperation in Central Asia is estimated at .


The value of water for nature and climate

Water-related natural systems such as forests, wetlands and marine and coastal ecosystems are essential for human life. They play a critical role in providing food, energy, medicines and genetic resources and materials fundamental for wellbeing. As by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), more than 2bn people rely on wood fuel, an estimated 4bn people use natural medicines and 70% of drugs used for cancer are products inspired by nature. Moreover, marine and land ecosystems are extremely valuable as they serve as sole large-scale sinks for man-made carbon emissions. Overall, the WWF that the world’s natural capital was worth $125trn to the world’s economy.

However, as discussed  by IPBES and, ecosystems around the world are irreversibly damaged—or nearing their “tipping points”—with potentially catastrophic consequences for economies and people. The that the world’s stock of natural capital per person has declined by nearly 40% since the early 1990s. Deforestation remains a critical challenge. Although the tropics 11% less primary forest last year compared with 2020, this followed a 12% increase from 2019 to 2020—mostly due to an increase in fire-related loss. Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforesting a record high for the first six months of 2022. Significant investment in conservation and nature-based solutions for water-related ecosystems are required to avoid the destruction of the world's natural ecosystems. 


The road ahead 

In a summer of extreme weather, dialogues at World Water Week will be important in shaping agendas at COP27 and the 2023 UN Water Conference. To achieve the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals and a water-secure world, global leaders must create the momentum to quickly get us back on track.



The conversation about global water stress and security will continue at World Water Week. Economist Impact is a partner of World Water Week and is participating in multiple sessions including “”, “” and the . .


Enjoy in-depth insights and expert analysis - subscribe to our Perspectives newsletter, delivered every week