Water resources shrink as crisis looms on horizon
By Richard Ingham and Anthony Lucas, AFP
May 14, 2014, 12:08 am TWN
PARIS -- The next time your throat is as dry as a bone and the Sun is beating down, take a glass of clean, cool water.
Savor it. Sip by sip.
Vital and appreciated as that water is, it will be even more precious to those who will follow you.
By the end of this century, billions are likely to gripped by water stress and the stuff of life could be an unseen driver of conflict.
So say hydrologists who forecast that on present trends, freshwater faces a double crunch — from a population explosion, which will drive up demand for food and energy, and the impact of climate change.
"Approximately 80 percent of the world's population already suffers serious threats to its water security, as measured by indicators including water availability, water demand and pollution," the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in a landmark report in March.
"Climate change can alter the availability of water and therefore threaten water security."
Already today, around 768 million people do not have access to a safe, reliable source of water and 2.5 billion do not have decent sanitation. Around a fifth of the world's aquifers are depleted.
Jump forward in your imagination to mid-century, when the world's population of about 7.2 billion is expected to swell to around 9.6 billion.
By then, global demand for water is likely to increase by a whopping 55 percent, according to the United Nations' newly published World Water Development Report.
More than 40 percent of the planet's population will be living in areas of "severe" water stress, many of them in the broad swathe of land that runs along north Africa, the Middle East and western South Asia.
Yet these scenarios do not take into account changes in rainfall or snowfall or glacier shrinkage caused by global warming.
Wetter or Drier
As a very general rule, wet countries will get wetter and dry countries will get drier, accentuating risk of flood or drought, climate scientists warn.
But whether people will heed their alarm call is a good question.
"When seismologists talk about an area at risk from an earthquake, people generally accept what they say and refrain from building their home there," says French climatologist Herve Le Treut.