Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Water Scarcity is Here (and it is Likely to Worsen)

Map developed by International Water Management Institute
For those of us who live in the desert here in New Mexico, the concerns about water scarcity are very real.  This is especially the case this year because precipitation during the winter months has been much less than usual.  To make matters worse, very little of the snow that fell in t he mountains this year is making its way to rivers and streams in our region. 

The situation is dire in many areas of the world.  On World Water Day (March 22), the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog posted a piece that took a comprehensive look at the world's current water situation.  The article, entitled  The Looming Threat of Water Scarcity, presented a dire situation:

Some 1.2 billion people—almost a fifth of the world—live in areas of physical water scarcity, while another 1.6 billion face what can be called economic water shortage. The situation is only expected to worsen as population growth, climate change, investment and management shortfalls, and inefficient use of existing resources restrict the amount of water available to people. It is estimated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, with almost half of the world living in conditions of water stress.

Two Types of Water Scarcity
 The blog post, which is based on a comprehensive report by Worldwatch Institute, pointed out that there are two  types of water scarcity:

Physical scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet demand; its symptoms include severe environmental degradation, declining groundwater, and unequal water distribution.

As you can see by the map above, our area of the U.S. is painted in orange, which means that we suffer from physical water scarcity. But the water still flows when we open the tap, and our biggest concern this spring and fall will probably be conserving water. 

Economic water scarcity occurs when there is a lack of investment and proper management to meet the demand of people who do not have the financial means to use existing water sources; the symptoms in this case normally include poor infrastructure. Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity.

In addition to building infrastructure, there are other accompanying solutions.Policymakers must introduce a variety of measures to address global water scarcity., said the blog post written by Supriya Kumar. One important initiative is to support small-scale farmers. Much of the public investment in agricultural water management has focused on large-scale irrigation systems. Farmers can also use water more efficiently by taking a number of steps, including growing a diverse array of crops suited to local conditions and adopting irrigation systems like “drip” lines that deliver water directly to plants’ roots. 

But there is an even larger at play in the global water situation: the warming of the Earth's climate. 
To combat the effects of climate change, efforts must be made to follow an integrated water resource management approach on a global scale. This involves water management that recognizes the holistic nature of the water cycle and the importance of managing trade-offs within it, that emphasizes the importance of effective institutions, and that is inherently adaptive, said the report.

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