The World’s Looming Water Crisis

Today is World Water Day, which the U.N. commemorated in 1993 to highlight the importance — and growing scarcity — of potable freshwater. Unfortunately, the problem has only gotten worse in the subsequent decades, as the following map from National Geographic makes vividly clear:

Water Scarcity Worldwide.jpg

Fourteen of the world’s 20 largest cities are experiencing water scarcity, with 70 percent of the world’s population (4 billion) living in areas that content with at least one month of severe water shortage; nearly half these people live in the world’s two largest countries, China and India. A little over 2 billion people have no access to clean drinking water, which contributes to a range of illnesses and diseases, most of which kill hundreds of thousands of children annually.

At the same time, climate change is causing an imbalance in the water supply in which some places have too much water.

Disaster data compiled by the U.N. clearly shows floods are also getting worse. They are happening more frequently, especially in coastal regions and river valleys, and affecting more people. Of all major disasters in the world between 1995 and 2015, 90 percent were weather-related events, such as floods, storms, heatwaves, and droughts. Flooding accounted for more than half of all weather-related disasters, affecting 2.3 billion people and killing 157,000 in that 20-year period. Last year, the costs of extreme weather—floods, droughts, wildfires, storms—in the U.S. reached a record-topping $300 billion. These events displaced more than one million Americans from their homes.

… This is being driven not just by climate change, but by population and economic growth and poor water management, experts warn.

“Water scarcity and flood problems are primarily due to quick growth, increasing vulnerability, and insufficient preparation,” says Arjen Hoekstra, a professor of water management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. “Climate change, however, is and will worsen the situation in most cases.”

Given the obvious influence of climate and the environment on water supply, it is fitting that the theme for this year’s World Water Day is “Nature for Water“, which emphasizes green initiatives like restoring wetlands and reconnecting rivers to floodplains to help improve freshwater generation and access.

Learn more from the U.N. fact sheet here.

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