Global water crisis causing failed harvests, hunger, war and terrorism
Publisher: The Ecologist
Date Written: 27/03/2015
Year Published: 2015
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX17383
The world is already experiencing water scarcity driven by over-use, poor land management and climate change. If we fail to respond to the warnings before us, major food and power shortages will soon afflict large parts of the globe.
Although less developed regions are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate-induced water scarcity, richer Western countries and emerging industrial economies are increasingly feeling the heat.
California's record 15-year drought, the AWWA study shows, has been accompanied by the depletion of 41 acre-feet of groundwater and 12 million acre-feet of surface water. When the groundwater runs dry, and if the drought persists, US farming will collapse. The potential onset of an El Nino might lead to a return of rain that could alleviate this problem, at least temporarily, but even so, the long-term trend looks grim.
But it is not just the US, India, and Pakistan's collective water footprint from pumping water in the Upper Ganges basin is 54 times the area of the aquifer itself. In India, a major regional power and emerging economy, at current rates of consumption, 60% of the country's aquifers will be in "critical condition" in just two decades.
Given that consumption is pitched to increase driven by economic and demographic growth, this could happen much earlier. This could be a risk not just to the internal social cohesion of both India and Pakistan, both of which already face significant tensions along ethno-religious lines, but to their considerably strained diplomatic relations.
China also faces a serious water crisis, according to the AWWA study. Although half its population and two-thirds of its farmland are in the north, 80% of the country's water is in the south. The 70% of groundwater in the north is too unfit for human contact, let alone use in agriculture or industry.
Yet half the country's wheat for domestic consumption is produced in the north. In just five years, an estimated 30 million people in China will be displaced due to water stress.
Defence analysts believe that regional water scarcity could increase the risk of conflict between India and China. In the US, the drought-ridden Colorado River basin is shared by seven US states and Mexico - rivalry over control of water is largely political for now, but this could change.
In 2008, a report by the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute suggested that the US military must prepare for a "violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States" due to a "loss of functioning political and legal order" - triggered potentially by environmental, energy or economic shocks.
This "bleak future" is not inherently inevitable - but it is on our current path.