Water and climate change
Human activity has always been favoured by the presence of clean, drinking water. In fact, the world’s greatest civilizations emerged near the largest rivers. The Mesopotamian civilization settled near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; Egyptians flourished close to the Nile, and the great Chinese empire benefited from the waters of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. Climate change, however, is threatening to disrupt the natural course of our most important rivers, causing draughts in some areas and floods elsewhere. Agricultural activity, and human activity at large, will see significant changes as a result of climate change and its effects on the water resources of the planet.
We have been hearing about climate change since the mid 1990s. Sadly, little or no action has been taken until very recently. At present, addressing climate change is crucial if we want to ensure that future generations will have access to clean, drinkable water. Failing to do so may result in the undernourishment of a large proportion of the world’s population, and overall, a more vulnerable position for both humans and the planet’s biosphere.
- The changing patterns of rainfall are compromising the arability of some of the planet’s most fertile areas, such as Brazil, North America and Europe. Large areas of land have experienced more than a 20% decrease of water availability since the 1960s.
- Earth’s increasing population means that more than 40 countries could face severe water scarcity; some of them may even experience chronic shortages. In fact, at present, countries such as Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE fully rely on desalinated water from the Gulf. Their survival is conditioned by technological advances in water potabilization. Luckily, water purification devices and technologies are seeing improvements on a daily basis, making more of the world’s water safe for drinking purposes.
- The greenhouse effect, which causes an elevation of the temperature of the earth’s surface well above its natural levels, is melting the earth’s glaciers. This will cause a rise of the sea level. For example, in areas such as the delta of the river Nile, once a prosperous, well-watered area of the Mediterranean basin, up to 8 million people might have to be evacuated from coastline towns and villages if the sea continues to rise at the current rate.
- Sea level rises also entail a high risk of seepages of marine water into aquifers of drinkable water; contaminating them and making them unsuitable for human consumption.
All in all, not taking action against climate change today could result in uncertainty when it comes to guaranteeing access to water supplies for human communities in the future. Even if the quantity of available water in the planet remains the same, climate change could compromise certain communities’ access to it.
At this point in time, ensuring that communities throughout the world have access to clean, drinkable water is more urgent than ever.
Source: Vital Water Graphics – An Overview of the State of the World’s Fresh and Marine Waters (United Nations Environment Programme)
(Photo by Moyan_Brenn)