The Geneva-based agency’s annual global risk report named water crises as the leading long-term challenge globally, with the most potential to devastate economies.
Failure to mitigate water risks could have severe impact on food production, hygiene and the spread of diseases among children in particular, the report found, with the arid MENA countries most exposed to the threat of water crises.
Water has risen up the political agenda over the last decade, replacing financial concerns as the top global threat. Still, governments are not doing enough to address the challenges effectively. Per capita water availability will fall by half by 2050, according to the World Bank. Globally, climate change is expected to cut water supply in MENA, southern Europe and Southwest America.
The WEF report reclassified water crises from an environmental threat to a societal one. Water supply is crucial for good hygiene and preventing the spread of disease, a topic that has come particularly under the spotlight following the Ebola crisis, which began last year. Almost 8,500 people have died from the virus and more than 21,000 have been infected to date, according to the World Health Organisation.
The Global Risks 2015 report tasked some 900 experts to look at threats to the world in 2015. They ranked 28 risks in terms of likelihood and impact. The leading two threats in terms of impact on countries and regions were water crises, followed by the spread of infectious diseases. Interstate conflict and extreme weather events were deemed the most likely global risks.
Rising structural unemployment and underemployment was also seen as a significant threat, driving inequality and social pressures. Unemployment ranked ninth in terms of global impact, but fifth in terms of likelihood.
Around 60 per cent of the MENA region’s population is under 25 and overall unemployment rates range from 11 per cent in Kuwait to over 30 per cent in Morocco, according to United Nations data.
Income inequality within countries is on the rise, according to the report, with emerging economies increasingly blighted by the income gap.
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