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Water and Climate Change


Water is the primary medium through which climate change influences Earth’s ecosystem and thus the livelihood and well-being of societies. Higher temperatures and changes in extreme weather conditions are projected to affect availability and distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows and groundwater, and further deteriorate water quality. The poor, who are the most vulnerable, are likely to be adversely affected.


Water resources and how they are managed impact almost all aspects of society and the economy, in particular health, food production and security, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, industry, and the functioning of ecosystems. Under present climate variability, water stress is already high, particularly in many developing countries, and climate change adds even more urgency for action. Without improved water resources management, the progress towards poverty reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals, and sustainable development in all its economic, social and environmental dimensions, will be jeopardized.


Adaptation to climate change is closely linked to water and its role in sustainable development. To recognize this reality and to respond accordingly presents development opportunities. Various necessary adaptation measures that deal with climate variability and build upon existing land and water management practices have the potential to create resilience to climate change and to enhance water security and thus directly contribute to development. Innovative technological practices and implementation of strategies are also needed at the appropriate levels for adaptation as well as for mitigation.

Adaptation to climate change is urgent. Water plays a pivotal role in it, but the political world has yet to recognize this notion.


Source: UN-Water Policy Brief Climate Change Adaptation: The Pivotal Role of Water, 2010


Cartoon: Patrick Chappette for the International New York Times

Last update:07 Oct 2014