A new report says a shortage of potable water is the leading cause of emergency alerts worldwide.
The report from the World Health Organization said the global outbreak of water shortages is the most serious since the pandemic began more than two years ago.
The WHO’s report comes as China, the world’s largest producer of the mineral, is grappling with the fallout from a nationwide water shortage that threatens millions of people.
The water crisis has hit hardest in China’s far-western regions of Xinjiang, where many residents depend on drinking water from the Mekong River.
The crisis has already hit Beijing, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, where officials have blamed the water crisis on the state-owned Sinohydro Corporation, which supplies water to the region.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the WHO’s director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, said the situation was worse than the worst pandemic.
“It is more severe than the severe pandemic, which is in China,” Chan said.
“In some areas, the levels of water have gone so low that people have had to drink water from rivers, lakes, or ponds.”
The report also found that China’s national water supply system is failing to provide enough water for millions of residents.
“A third of the population, and probably a quarter of the entire population, rely on some kind of water supply,” Chan told the AP.
“We have to get to the bottom of this problem.”
The world’s health organization said the crisis could lead to thousands of cases of diarrhea, pneumonia and other infections in China and could lead countries to consider rationing food supplies.
Chan said the worst-case scenario would be “unthinkable” for China.
“The most severe scenario, if this water shortage continues for any extended period of time, could cause an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.”
Chan said China should work with the United States and other countries to address the crisis, which has led to a nationwide lockdown.
Chan also warned that a global pandemic could cause food shortages and widespread food price spikes.
Chan and other experts said a major factor behind the water shortage was the country’s failure to build adequate infrastructure to store and distribute water, a problem that has led China to use a combination of municipal water systems and privately-owned water companies.
Chan told AP that China should improve water management and develop a long-term plan for developing sustainable water management.