Today, for World Water Day 2018, representatives of 350.org in Brazil and South Africa led a peaceful action to show that, with climate change seriously affecting rainfall patterns worldwide, the water crisis has already become a critical reality which affects millions of people across all regions and calls for urgent action, transcending ethnic, religious, geographical or political divides. Holding containers with letters that formed the phrase “Defend water”, activists symbolically shared water to emphasise that, in order to protect people and the planet they inhabit, defending this important finite natural resource is crucial.

“Water is an indispensable resource for life, be it human, animal or plant. Water scarcity is already one of the major urban crises of our time. Communities in Africa, Asia and South America are under heavy pressure, either from the inaction of local governments or from retrograde actions that only serve the interests of large corporations to the detriment of people. We have to act fast, with the awareness that it is possible to live without coal, oil, gas or mining, but it is impossible to live without water,” said Nicole Figueiredo de Oliveira, Brazil and Latin America Team Leader at 350.org.

According to Glen Tyler, South African Team Leader at 350.org, whose city and its population are one of the first to face a drinkable water shortage, the situation is dire. “Cape Town residents are already facing the harsh reality of dwindling water supplies. The drought has lasted for more than three years now and the trend is in line with predictions made by climate scientists – we are receiving less rain, and are having to brace ourselves for a new normal, largely as a result of the fossil fuel industry.”

Instead of serving as a space for debate where governments and society could share proposals for public policies that protect water and people around the world, the World Water Forum, held in Brasilia from March 17-22, was dominated by large multinational corporations and was closed to most civic organizations and social movements. Meanwhile, at the alternative event, citizens of various nationalities discussed real solutions, led by the communities themselves, to combat water scarcity and human actions that cause climate change.

The plenary sessions and workshops organized by various institutions debated topics such as the contamination of aquifers and underground systems by the exploitation of fossil fuels and mining, river dams for hydroelectric power generation, the irrational use of water for industrial purposes, waste, poor treatment of urban sewage and the neglectful posture of companies in sectors such as agribusiness.

According to the United Nations, global freshwater demand will outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030, and more than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies.

For some years now, with rainfall patterns heavily impacted by climate change around the globe, previously “safe” areas are now at risk of severe droughts. The financial capital of Brazil and one of the 10 most populous cities in the world, São Paulo went through a calamitous situation in 2015. The water crisis was considered over in 2016, but in January 2017 reserves were below expectations for the period, threatening once again the future of water supply in the municipality.

The facts show that the need for change is urgent and global. Africa, more than any other continent, bears the brunt of water shortages. It is paramount to mobilize and empower communities in all regions to fight for water and energy independence. The Fossil Free climate movement, launched by 350.org, starts with the premise that change is powerful when it begins locally, restoring real power to the communities that are directly affected and granting them the decision-making power over the future they desire.