More than half of the world’s population may be facing serious daily water shortages by 2025 if we keep up our current patterns of consumption. Scientists around the world are warning global policy makers about this impending crisis, hoping to avoid the potential catastrophe.
“What’s happening bit by bit is that water scarcity is becoming increasingly common around the world, no matter where you look – as country after country hits the limit of what it can use,” said Professor Mike Young, a specialist in water policy reform from the University of Adelaide. “Whether that’s in Australia, California, China, India, Pakistan, or right throughout Africa.”
The 2017 Global Risks Report published by the World Economic Forum noted that World Bank forecasts indicate that the availability of water in cities may drop by as much as two-thirds by 2050. Aggressive groundwater pumping has caused land to sink around the world – in the world’s fifth most water-stressed city, Beijing, some neighbourhoods are sinking by as much as 10 centimetres each year.
According to Young, whose work involves advising governments how to effectively manage their water resources, it’s time for policymakers around the world to consider adopting a new system of water sharing agreements.
“That’s a big transition that has to happen everywhere,” he said. “Climate change is talked about a lot in terms of shifting where the water is going to be abundant and where it’s going to be scarce, but that’s just one of the many things that is going to have to be managed.”
Currently, freshwater makes up only about 2.5 percent of Earth’s water – and most of that is trapped in snowfields and glaciers. Our ever-growing population and a greater demand for this small amount of freshwater are largely contributing to water scarcity. While extreme weather events caused by climate change do impact our water, there’s also the issue of affluence.
One bottle of wine requires more than 400 bottles of water to produce. Producing one calorie of meat demands ten times more water than producing a calorie of food crops. As our growing middle classes consume more of these kinds of foods, our water resources are being significantly impacted.
However, according to Young, the real challenge is convincing world leaders to develop better systems to manage and share resources intelligently, fairly, and thoughtfully. If not, he said, we could be facing severe food shortages – and increased tension between nations.
“Our planet, the human family, and life in all its myriad forms on Earth are in the throes of a water crisis that will only get worse over the coming decades,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales, adding that 37 water-related conflicts have occurred between countries since 1947.
Still, Young said he is “extremely optimistic” that the worst-case scenario water crisis scientists are warning against could be avoided – especially if more countries adopt water sharing systems similar to the one in Australia.
“Australia has one of the best water sharing systems in the world, particularly as a result of the reforms made in the last twenty years in Australia where we’ve redefined our water rights as shares,” Young said. “The theoretical modeling that’s been done suggests there is no problem If water resources are well managed … if we are prepared to adjust where people live and how they live.”