At the same time, swelling populations and dwindling resources around the globe have led to increased water scarcity in multiple regions, the U.N. agency said.
“But management, monitoring, forecasting and early warnings are fragmented and inadequate,” said the report, which included input from more than 20 global development agencies and scientific institutions.
“We need to wake up to the looming water crisis,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas.
Currently, more than 2 billion people live in "water-stressed countries” where they lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation, according to the report “The State of Climate Services 2021: Water.”
The WMO also cited massive flooding this year in Japan, China, Pakistan and Europe as evidence of a growing number of water-related hazards.
“It is not just in the developing world that flooding has led to major disruption. Catastrophic flooding in Europe led to hundreds of deaths and widespread damage,” Talaas said.
Since 2000, flood-related disasters have grown 134 percent and caused the most damage and loss of life in countries in Asia, the report found. Drought-related disasters rose 29 percent over the same period, with the majority of fatalities occurring in Africa.
North Africa and Central Asia suffer the world’s highest levels of water stress, a condition defined as the ratio between freshwater withdrawals and available resources. Globally, a quarter of all cities are already water stressed and experience perennial water shortages, the report said.
Elsewhere, extreme weather events such as storms and landslides have caused untold economic losses.
The WMO and other agencies said that “urgent action” is needed to ramp up sustainable investment in drought and flood early warning systems, improve water management and integrate water and climate policies.
“Time is not on our side,” Talaas said.