Water is the real crisis facing us (a reprise)

The following post was written over three years ago, but the increasing prevalence of drought problems made worse by climate change make our water crisis one of greatest issues facing humans. When I used the term shortage in reference to the crisis in a recent comment, another commenter correctly pointed out this is not just a shortage it is an increasing problem with the decline in available water.*

One of the major problems is the current and growing global water crisis. For several years, the World Economic Forum has voted the global water crisis as the greatest risk facing our planet over the longer term, defined as ten years. But, this is not just a future problem, the city of Cape Town in South Africa is in severe water crisis and continues to ration pushing forward their Day Zero as long as they can

Per The Guardian in an article this week, the United Nations warns that water shortages “could affect 5 billion people by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.

The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

‘For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,’ says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. ‘In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.’

Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum. Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year.

This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities.

Demand for water is projected to rise fastest in developing countries. Meanwhile, climate change will put an added stress on supplies because it will make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.

Drought and soil degradation are already the biggest risk of natural disaster, say the authors, and this trend is likely to worsen. ‘Droughts are arguably the greatest single threat from climate change,’ it notes. The challenge has been most apparent this year in Cape Town, where residents face severe restrictions as the result of a once-in-384-year drought. In Brasília, the host of the forum, close to 2m people have their taps turned off once in every five days due to a unusually protracted dry period.”

Here in the states, we exacerbate our drought and other water problems with bad piping and fracking, which waste or use huge amounts of water. But, with our vast agriculture, we need water to produce our and much of the world’s crops. We must manage it better. Two books are very illuminating. “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” by Steven Solomon is a terrific look back and ahead. He is the coiner of the phrase “water is the new oil.” The other book is called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that details the struggles of these professions and two others with climate change and its impact on water and other things they do.

Folks, this is a major problem. We must address it now before we all have our own Day Zeroes. If this is not enough to raise concern, one of the financial experts who forewarned us of the pending financial crisis, has a new concern – water.

*Note: The climate change models make the water problem worse. For example, the city of Miami is “the at most risk” city in the world due to encroaching seas, which already are coming up through street drains. This is called “non-rainy day flooding.” What is less talked about is the Biscayne Aquifer which provides fresh water to the area is protected by porous limestone. As the sea water encroaches further inland, it will breach this aquifer. If that were not enough, Duke Energy produced a report on its concerns for the Catawba River providing sufficient drinking water to the metro Charlotte area as well as helping power two major power stations for the area with its growth expectations. Then this line caught my eye – it is predicted that the levels of evaporation of usable water will be increased by 11% (more evaporation) due to climate change.

12 thoughts on “Water is the real crisis facing us (a reprise)

  1. Fracking, which is a danger in other ways should be stopped straight away. If I have to relieve my bladder at night (about ten times) I don’t flush until the morning and maybe we should start thinking about the old Save Water, Bathe with a Friend, again, just don’t force me in with the budgie. Don’t wash up every time you use something, save it until it’s worth the water. There are ways to help if we apply our minds.

    • David, thanks. We must do both little and large things to save the water. It would help if our politicians realized we have a problem. Keith

  2. It takes about 35 gallons (US) to produce a pound of potatoes. It takes about 1900 gallons to produce a pound of almonds. What we do not see is this accurately reflected in consumer prices so that a free market can demonstrate real value.

    Reinsurers are leading the way here. Climate impact and risk is now being demanded by reinsurers for any and all insurance companies wishing to offer coverage; the real cost is being imposed if an insurance company wants to be covered when they offer to insure businesses and consumers! This is a really big deal because it’s going to change the cost of everything and realign these costs to a changing reality. The danger is political; public insurance has been a stop-gap measure to offer coverage where insurance companies have every reason to fear to tread… from fire insurance in California to flood coverage in small town America to the billion dollar mile of downtown Miami. All it will take is a large hurricane to sweep up the East Coast and damage ocean front property for Americans to wake up and realize they’re on the hook for trillions of dollars.

    Water is an important resource that has always been treated with disdain because it’s been plentiful. That is changing. Finally.

  3. Thank you for making aware of this serious and growing problem. Like David, I try to save water. And I do think that for the private households it is those little daily things which can have a big effect. For example, I am cleaning all items in the sink with dishwashing detergent first and then rinse everything together. I always turn off the faucet anyway, if I don’t need the water at that moment. But of course, there is so much more… just thinking of private pools. The comments also add a lot of insights. There is so much more about wasting water happening in the background which we don’t even notice.

    • Thanks Cindy. We call can do small things, but we need to do big things as well. Renewable energy need not involve water usage or loss, eg. Duke Energy said in a report, they lose 1% – 2% of water per fossil fuel or nuclear plant and that is before climate change. Keith

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