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Video | Water scarcity tops list of high impact global threats

Water scarcity has topped a list of high impact threats to global stability in an influential report published yesterday.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Global Risks 2015 report found that while water scarcity was low down in the top 10 most likely threats to global stability, it was the highest in terms of the potential impact it could have.

Experts from the WEF even suggested that scarce supply of clean water could trigger hostilities.

“Wars have been fought in the past over oil,” said John Drzik, global risk and specialties president for Marsh, which helped produce the report. “Will we now see that start to happen with water?”

Drzik added that water crisis was a “here and now risk” faced by up to 5bn people.

About 900 WEF members contributed to the survey, primarily from business, academia and non-governmental organisations.

The report sets out the top global risks in terms of likelihood and potential impact over the next decade and is in its 10th year. Last year saw water shortages identified as the third highest risk, behind fiscal crises in key economies and structurally high unemployment/underemployment.

Top 5 global risks in terms of likelihood

  1. Interstate conflict with regional consequences (geopolitical risk)
  2. Extreme weather events (environmental risk)
  3. Failure of national governance (geopolitical risk)
  4. State collapse or crisis (geopolitical risk)
  5. High structural unemployment or underemployment (economic risk)

This year, water crises came eighth in the top 10 risks in terms of likelihood, behind interstate conflict, extreme weather events, natural disasters and failure to adapt to climate change, but for the first time the report outlined the top 10 risks in terms of impact.

This second list saw water crises rise above spread of infectious diseases, interstate conflict and failure of climate change adaptation.

The threats were also broken into five themes: economic, environmental, geopolitical, social and technological.

Experts warned that another key threat – which topped the list of social concerns – was a failure of urban planning, particularly given the predicted vast migration of the world’s population to cities.

“We have an unprecedented transition from ruralisation to urbanisation,” said Zurich Insurance Group chief risk office Axel Lehmann.

“Unplanned and too rapid urbanisation will [have an impact on] all of the risks, particularly on infrastructure needs. And we already have a huge need for infrastructure investment.”

The experts said that while many countries had witnessed varying degrees of success in the past with public and private collaboration, this would be vital to mitigating many of the global risks identified.

Top 5 Global Risks in Terms of impact

  1. Water crises (societal risk)
  2. Rapid and massive spread of infectious diseases (societal risk)
  3. Weapons of mass destruction (geopolitical risk)
  4. Interstate conflict with regional consequences (geopolitical risk)
  5. Failure of climate-change adaptation (environmental risk)

Global Risks 2015 Report launch

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