Serious water shortages in regions where rainfall and snowmelt cannot make up for agricultural, industrial and urban water consumption – 1

A civilised world is one in which every person has pure drinking water – but about 3 billion people in total face insufficient supplies of fresh water and according to the United Nations that number is set to increase to half the world’s population by 2030. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 40% of the world’s food depends on irrigation, which accounts for almost 70% of fresh water used.

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Clive Cookson, Science Editor (FT) reported that more than a third of the world’s biggest aquifers, a vital source of fresh water for millions, are “in distress” because human activities are draining them. The problem is most serious in regions where rainfall and snowmelt cannot make up for water extracted for agriculture, industry, drinking and other human purposes. Scientists from Nasa, the US space agency, and the University of California, Irvine, analysed 10 years of data and published the results in the Water Resources Research journal. Jay Famiglietti, the study leader, said: “Twenty-one of the world’s 37 biggest aquifers have passed sustainability tipping points . . . they are being depleted. Over a third [13] are so bad that they are experiencing exceptionally high levels of stress”. Badly affected areas:

  • the Arabian Aquifer System
  • the Indus Basin aquifer of India and Pakistan
  • the Murzuq-Djado Basin in northern Africa and
  • California’s Central Valley.

world-running-out-of-water map

Short-term and unjust solutions

Erica Gies reports in the Guardian that countries in the Persian Gulf are turning increasingly to international food imports after decades of depleting their groundwater. Israel is spending more of its limited water resources on industries other than agriculture, earning money to buy food internationally. Some countries are buying land in wetter countries to grow their food, a practice that can jeopardize local food security, environmental justice and human rights. A study last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is said to have found land grabbing inextricably linked to gaining water rights: 60% taken by the United States, the United Arab Emirates, India, the United Kingdom, Egypt, China and Israel.

47% of such land purchases occurred in Africa and 33% in Asia.

The Guardian has produced a useful summary of the ways in which water can be measured, conserved and used more wisely:


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