Lake Hume in Australia, one of the countries studied in a new report on global water scarcity. (Rodrigo Vieira / CC BY-SA 2.0)
A new study finds that 4 billion people across the globe suffer water scarcity during at least one month during the year, while half a billion experience it throughout the year.
The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, indicates that global water shortages are much more severe than previously thought.
Almost 2 billion of those experiencing extreme water scarcity live in India and China, but the study also includes 120 million people living in the United States, mainly in California and other Western states.
From The Guardian:
These water problems are set to worsen, according to the researchers, as population growth and increasing water use - particularly through eating meat - continues to rise.
In January, water crises were rated as one of three greatest risks of harm to people and economies in the next decade by the World Economic Forum, alongside climate change and mass migration. In places, such as Syria, the three risks come together: a recent study found that climate change made the severe 2007-2010 drought much more likely and the drought led to mass migration of farming families into cities.
“If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands [...] who led the new research. “One place where it is very, very acute is in Yemen.”
Yemen could run out of water within a few years, but many other places are living on borrowed time as aquifers are continuously depleted, including Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia.
Hoekstra also highlights the Murray-Darling basin in Australia and the midwest of the US. “There you have the huge Ogallala [aquifer], which is being depleted.” He said even rich cities like London in the UK were living unsustainably: “You don’t have the water in the surrounding area to sustain the water flows” to London in the long term.
The new study, published in the journal ‘Science Advances’ on Friday, is the first to examine global water scarcity on a monthly basis and at a resolution of 31 miles or less. It analysed data from 1996-2005 and found severe water scarcity – defined as water use being more than twice the amount being replenished – affected 4 billion people for at least one month a year.
“The results imply the global water situation is much worse than suggested by previous studies, which estimated such scarcity impacts between 1.7 billion and 3.1 billion people,” the researchers concluded. The new work also showed 1.8 billion people suffer severe water scarcity for at least half of every year.
Read more here.
—Posted by Roisin Davis