The worldwide degradation of natural resources is one on the major societal challenges. Water is one of the most important resources for humankind. It is a prerequisite for life on our planet and cuts across many social, economic and environmental activities.

The United Nations defines water security as: ‘The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of and acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.’ (Ligtvoet W. et al, 2018)

Water Security

Water security is related to three water-related challenges: water scarcity (too little water), water pollution (dirty water) and flood risk (too much water).
In the coming decades, these challenges and their impact on people’s daily lives are expected to increase due to population growth, economic development, increased agricultural production and climate change, in turn affecting water availability, sea level rise and weather patterns.
In order to secure water resources, now and in the future,an understanding of the complexity of water-relatedchallenges and the existence of possible gaps is essential, as a basis for the development of sustainable strategies thatcan adequately reduce risks for the population, eco no mic development, ecosystems, and water associated migration and conflicts.

Link with Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015 and 2016, the world agreed on a complex set of global goals in the Paris Climate Agreement (2015), the Sustainable Development Goals (2015), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) and the New Urban Agenda (2016). Water is linked to these global commitments in many ways. In the Paris Climate Agreement 2015, adaptation to climate change is on the level of national commitments to mitigate or combat climate change itself by reducing greenhouse gases.

Major climate adaptation challenges include water security issues with respect to increases in water scarcity, drought and flood risk, and increasing water temperatures affecting water quality and biodiversity. With its link to human health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, food production, sustainable cities and communities, and the quality of ecosystems, water is directly and indirectly also linked to many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Improving the protection against water-related disasters is also covered under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The New Urban Agenda specifically concerns the sustainable development of cities and encompasses the water-related goals that are also part of the SDGs and the Sendai Framework.

The scale of water-related deserters

Water pollution and water-related weather extremes (drought, extreme rainfall, flooding, storm surges) affect the lives of millions of people and cause billions of euros in economic damage, each year.

Each year, water-related disasters, such as drought and flooding, affect approximately 160 million people, killing about 13,500 of them. Flooding affects most of these people (106 million, annually) and causes the largest economic damage (USD 31 billion, annually). Fortunately, due to improved early warning systems and increased disaster management capacity, the number of people killed by weather-related disasters has decreased, over the last decades. Far more people are killed by other types of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as by violent conflict.


  • In 2010, around 1 billion people around the world were living in flood prone areas, potentially exposed to either river or coastal flooding. This number is projected to increase to over 1.6 billion by 2050.
  • People living in flood-prone areas 2010–2050: The Business-as-usual scenario projects a 30% increase in the number of people potentially exposed to flooding and a threefold increase in economic damage. Many more people are potentially exposed to river flooding than to coastal flooding.
  • Challenges: As urban areas expand, trillions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure, industrial plants, office buildings and homes will be increasingly at risk of flooding.
  • Risks for people are unequally distributed While the developed countries will face most of the economic damage, the majority of people at risk live in developing countries.
  • Flood risk increases mainly due to population and economic development Overall, more extreme precipitation will increase the risk of river flooding. Without additional flood protection and following the projected strong increase in economic value in flood-prone areas, the focal point of damage will shift to Asia.

Building coherent adaptation and development scenarios for the global landscapes that cover the major water and climate challenges could be an interesting start for building a shared framework for learning (what could and could not work) and measuring successes and progress in reducing water and climate-related risks in hotspot regions around the world. For more info, visit: