Intense water stress is affecting a quarter of the population worldwide across 17 countries, a new report reveals along with a measure of the level of competition over water resources.
“Day zeroes” – a term that became well known in 2018 when Cape Town in South Africa came dangerously close to running out of water, will occur increasingly due to increasing water stress, warned by the experts at the World Resources Institute (WRI).
Badghis in Afghanistan and Gaborone and Jwaneng in Botswana were the most water-stressed regions in the world and Israel, Lebanon, and Qatar were ranked as the most water-stressed countries in the world.
According to WRI, the water crisis that the data brings forth will require better information, planning, and water management.
“Water matters,” said Betsy Otto, global director for water at WRI. “We’re currently facing a global water crisis. Our populations and economies are growing and demanding more water. But our supply is threatened by climate change, water waste and pollution. ”
For the study, the water available was compared to the amount withdrawn for households, industries, irrigation, and livestock by the global research organization.
In the 17 countries which were facing extremely high water stress, up to 80% of available surface and groundwater were found to be used by agriculture, industry, and municipalities on an average every year. When demand is more than supply, dire consequences may occur even in small dry periods, which are inevitable because of the climate crisis.
Out of the 17 high-risk countries, 12 is in the Middle East and North Africa.
India, with 1.3 billion and more people, ranked 13th as per the report, and has a striking level of water stress, experts noted.
The taps in Chennai, the city in southern India, ran dry in July, and photographs showing an empty lake in the city from satellite went viral on social media.
“The recent water crisis in Chennai gained global attention, but various areas in India are experiencing chronic water stress as well,” said Shashi Shekhar, former secretary of India’s ministry of water resources, and senior WRI fellow.
Apart from a handful of states, including New Mexico and California, which were found to be facing significant strains on their water supplies, the US did not have high levels of water stress overall. However, the problem in those states will only intensify with global heating.
In New Mexico water availability was found to have “extremely high” pressure, almost scoring same with the United Arab Emirates and Eritrea.
The two-thirds of the US experienced drought in 2012, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the Agriculture Department.
The effect of drought experienced by California in 2011 continued until a couple of years before. Considerable population growth is expected there while facing an increase in temperatures up to five degrees and rising sea levels, said Chair of the California Water Resources Control Board, Joaquin Esquivel.
World Bank research has emphasized that “while the consequences of drought are often invisible, they are significant and cause ‘misery in slow motion.”
The report highlights the treacherous water risk and warns of other connected social and political problems of water shortages.
The water supplies stress can exacerbate conflict and migration, threatens the supply of foods, and puts water-dependent industries in peril, including mining and manufacturing around the world, WRI notes.
“The picture is alarming in many places around the globe, but it’s very important to note that water stress is not destiny. What we can’t afford to do any longer is pretend that the situation will resolve itself,” said Otto.
“With respect to climate change we know that in many places what we’re going to be seeing is more erratic, more unpredictable hydrology, precipitation. Either too much or too little, often in the same places.”