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Page added on June 17, 2017

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The approaching crisis: Is the world running out of water?

Enviroment

GROWING up in Australia, most of us probably didn’t think twice about where our seemingly endless supply of water came from. In our young minds, the tap never ran dry.

But the world certainly doesn’t have the luxury to think like that.

Water is absolutely fundamental to life, which makes the increasingly loud warnings about water scarcity and an impending global water crisis so concerning for world leaders.

If current patterns of consumption continue unabated, two-thirds of the world’s population will be facing water shortages as a daily reality by 2025 and global policy makers are scrambling to avoid catastrophe.

“What’s happening bit by bit is that water scarcity is becoming increasingly common all around the world, no matter where you look as country after country hits the limit of what it can use,” says Professor Mike Young.

“Whether that’s in Australia, California, China, India, Pakistan, or right throughout Africa.”

Cities across the world are becoming increasingly thirsty as the demand for water grows and supply dwindles. From Bangalore to California scientists are offering up grim predictions.

Groundwater is being pumped so aggressively that land is sinking. Some neighbourhoods in Beijing (the world’s fifth most water-stressed city) are sinking at as much as 10 centimetres a year.

The World Bank forecasts that water availability in cities could decline by as much as two thirds by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Risks Report.

Prof Young is a specialist in water policy reform and holds a Research Chair in Water and Environmental Policy at the University of Adelaide. He regularly consults with governments about how to best manage their water resources and believes time is of the essence for countries around the world to transition to a new system of water sharing agreements.

“That’s a big transition that has to happen everywhere,” he said.

A current map showing water scarcity produced by the World Resource Institute. The dark red represents extremely high risk, the orange represents medium to high risk, while the lightest yellow indicates low risk.

A current map showing water scarcity produced by the World Resource Institute. The dark red represents extremely high risk, the orange represents medium to high risk, while the lightest yellow indicates low risk.Source:Supplied

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

While Earth may be covered in water, freshwater — the kind we care about — actually only represents 2.5 per cent of that. And almost 99 per cent of fresh water it is trapped in hard to reach places like glaciers and snowfields. In the end, less than one per cent of the planet’s water is actually available to fuel and feed the world’s 7.5 billion people.

Scarcity has largely been driven by an ever growing population and a greater demand for water as the world has become more affluent. To put that another way, a bottle of wine takes over 400 bottles of water to produce.

A secret report leaked by Wikileaks last year highlighted the fears of executives at food manufacturer Nestle about the world “running our of fresh water” in part due to a growth in meat consumption.

The report pointed out that a calorie of meat requires 10 times as much water to produce as a calorie of food crops. “As the world’s growing middle classes eat more meat, the earth’s water resources will be dangerously squeezed,” it said.

There’s also the added complication of increasingly extreme weather events brought about by climate change.

“Climate change is talked about a lot in terms of shifting where the water is going be abundant and where it’s going to be scarce, but that’s just one of the many things that is going to have to be managed,” Prof Young told news.com.au.

The real challenge, he says, is a political one: to establish robust sharing systems to manage and share regional water resources fairly, intelligently and carefully.

A man collects drinking water from taps that are fed by a spring in Cape Town. South Africa's Western Cape region which includes Cape Town declared a drought disaster on May 22, 2017. Picture: Rodger Bosch

A man collects drinking water from taps that are fed by a spring in Cape Town. South Africa’s Western Cape region which includes Cape Town declared a drought disaster on May 22, 2017. Picture: Rodger BoschSource:AFP

A THREAT TO PEACE AND STABILITY

This month the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that by 2050 global demand for fresh water is projected to grow by more than 40 per cent and at least a quarter of the world’s population will live in countries with a “chronic or recurrent” lack of clean water.

He told the UN Security Council that “strains on water access are already rising in all regions” and it was causing tension between nations.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose country currently holds the council presidency, noted that since 1947, some 37 conflicts have taken place between countries over water.

“Our planet, the human family and life in all its myriad forms on Earth are in the throes of a water crisis that will only get worse over the coming decades,” he said.

“If current patterns of consumption continue unabated, two-thirds of the world’s population will be facing water shortages as a daily reality by 2025.”

It’s an assessment Prof Young wholeheartedly agrees with. He says it’s a scenario that if not managed properly will lead to food shortages that will drive up prices.

Meanwhile there’s certainly no shortage of people heralding the potential stress and turmoil to be caused by water scarcity — and some of them are placing bets on the increasing importance of the commodity in the immediate future.

The resource has become a popular commodity for investors who are looking to profit from the growing value of water.

Most famously, Michael Burry — one of the first people to predicted the US subprime mortgage bond market would inflict the global financial crisis on the world, and made famous by Michael Lewis’ The Big Short — has been focusing his investment strategy solely on the importance of water. And he’s far from the only one.

Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in 
<i>The Big Short. </i>The book and subsequent film made Michael Burry famous for his market acumen.

Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short. The book and subsequent film made Michael Burry famous for his market acumen.Source:Supplied

AUSTRALIA LEADING IN THE TRANSITION THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

Despite all the doom and gloom, Professor Young is “extremely optimistic” that the catastrophe of a true water crisis can be avoided.

“The theoretical modelling that’s been done suggests there is no problem if water resources are well managed … if we are prepared to adjust where people live and how they live,” he said.

And in many cases around the world it’s often farmers who are leading the charge.

“Increasingly to my surprise it’s becoming more and more the farming communities who are becoming aware of the fact,” he said. “There’s a change in attitude as farmers start to realise these problems have to be resolved.”

According to him an appropriate management system for countries sharing access to water would mean “water rights are defined as shares not guaranteed entitlements, and every person is given a water account that looks just like a bank account. As water becomes available it’s credited to the account and when it’s used it’s debited,” he said. If you want to transfer you just log onto your account and transfer the water credits.

During his time consulting with government he says they’ve shown a growing interest to adopt such systems but it “requires a lot of political will”.

It’s an area where Australia is far ahead of much of the world.

“Australia has one of the best water sharing systems in the world, particularly as a result of the reforms made in the last 20 years in Australia where we’ve redefined our water rights as shares,” Prof Young said.

Good accounting systems, robust catchment infrastructure and the establishment of water markets in recent decades has made it much easier to allocate and trade water effectively.

“A market now boasting an annual turnover of between $1 billion and $3 billion is allowing water to move to its most economically productive uses,” the Department of Agriculture website says. “Trading generates economic benefits valued in hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

Australia system of water trading doesn’t always keep everyone happy though. Dairy Farmer Tony McCarthy next to an irrigation channel on his property at Dhurringle in Victoria. He has concerns about losing water from the system to be allocated further down stream in South Australia. Picture: David Geraghty, The Australian.

Australia system of water trading doesn’t always keep everyone happy though. Dairy Farmer Tony McCarthy next to an irrigation channel on his property at Dhurringle in Victoria. He has concerns about losing water from the system to be allocated further down stream in South Australia. Picture: David Geraghty, The Australian.Source:News Corp Australia

THE ROLE OF TECH

Desalination and recycled water are playing an increased role in meeting our water needs in Australia. Cities like Perth and Adelaide have relied heavily on desalination, while the WA capital …

However at this point, due to the financial cost of desalination it does have its limitations.

“As a general rule, growing crops using desalination, it doesn’t pay,” Prof Young said.

But innovation and new tech are providing hope for improved water management. In particular, the harnessing of big data provides opportunity according to IT expert Sharryn Napier, who is the VP and regional director for Qlik Australia and New Zealand.

“The current era of mass data streaming and unprecedented data flow has no doubt brought about vast untapped potential in the management of global and Australian water resources,” she wrote in The Australian in 2015.

“By making the shift away from static documents or siloed collections, data analysis can potentially play a significant role in resolving the world’s water scarcity issues.”

news.com.au



16 Comments on "The approaching crisis: Is the world running out of water?"

  1. onlooker on Sat, 17th Jun 2017 11:18 am 

    Not water. Fresh potable water in relation to current population needs

  2. Apneaman on Sat, 17th Jun 2017 1:06 pm 

    Never trust Australians. They’re backwards and upside down.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfR9iY5y94s

  3. Apneaman on Sat, 17th Jun 2017 2:41 pm 

    New Teflon Toxin Found in North Carolina Drinking Water

    “In this series, Sharon Lerner exposes DuPont’s multi-decade cover-up of the severe harms to health associated with a chemical known as PFOA, or C8, and associated compounds such as PFOS and GenX.”

    “A persistent and toxic industrial chemical known as GenX has been detected in the drinking water in Wilmington, North Carolina, and in surface waters in Ohio and West Virginia.

    DuPont introduced GenX in 2009 to replace PFOA, a compound it used to manufacture Teflon and coatings for stain-resistant carpeting, waterproof clothing, and many other consumer products. PFOA, also known as C8, was phased out after DuPont was hit with a class-action suit over health and environmental concerns. Yet as The Intercept reported last year, GenX is associated with some of the same health problems as PFOA, including cancer and reproductive issues.”

    https://theintercept.com/2017/06/17/new-teflon-toxin-found-in-north-carolina-drinking-water/

    ‘reproductive issues’? So there is some good in it after all. What kinda human would intentionally bring a child into this dystopian shithole world? They would have to be ignorant, delusional or a sadist. Or perhaps just a typical earth life form following it’s primary evolutionary programming to reproduce reproduce reproduce.

  4. Davy on Sun, 18th Jun 2017 6:02 am 

    Our most basic human need and it in significant disruption. It is the basic need of the earth ecosystem and our disruption is its disruption. With so many humans there is little chance of remedying this existential predicament. Water is something that scales so you are not going to scale water to humans if they are out of scale. What you can do is make improvements to a bad situation on the fringes. You can make it better with a Band-Aid.

    Our water woes will only increase and multiply. This is a process and it is a long process beyond human time frames. To correct the imbalances we forced in just a very short time are not possible. Some will manage but most will very soon see the destructive effects of water limits. Water is the most basic and one of those most important of human minimums. It affects modern humans with food and energy. Industrialization must have ample quality water to work properly. This is now threatened almost everywhere. This should be a warning for what is ahead because once these thresholds are crossed bad things will happen. One need only look to Las Vegas, Egypt, Yemen to see a disaster in the making. That is a quick short list of a very long list of failures in the pike.

  5. Manic on Sun, 18th Jun 2017 9:09 am 

    I’m not sure what Australia the author grew up in, but water supply issues have been an all too common theme across the entire country for at least the last couple of decades. Advertising campaigns, water restrictions, consistent news about droughts, and the fact that most of the country is desert, for instance, all contribute to that understanding.

    Anyone not living under a hot, dry rock would know that we have a very limited water supply.

  6. Kenz300 on Sun, 18th Jun 2017 10:19 am 

    Limits to growth.

  7. Sissyfuss on Sun, 18th Jun 2017 12:12 pm 

    The transition that Australia is leading into consists of dead reefs and massive coal exports. We are on a completely unsustainable path that unfortunately won’t manifest itself transparently until it’s too late.

  8. ALCIADA-MOLE on Sun, 18th Jun 2017 7:22 pm 

    water is mostly about water for industry and agriculture. it’s not really about drinking water. of course drinking water is a big problem where there’s no plumbing but it’s always been this way.

    yes the world is ending so buy gold because i’m a paultard and i’m down a lot. I could use a little help here guys.

    work harder to spread doom and offer up gold as the solution.

  9. dooma on Mon, 19th Jun 2017 5:59 am 

    Oh yes Sissyfuss, that Australian knows deep down that Australia will continue selling coal as we are just one big quarry. Hanging upside down and facing backwards.

  10. Apneaman on Mon, 19th Jun 2017 11:29 am 

    India is just half a degree away from a huge spike in heat-related deaths in summers

    https://qz.com/1005641/india-is-just-half-a-degree-away-from-a-huge-spike-in-heat-related-deaths-in-summers/

    ‘Heart attack (not sunstroke)’: Telangana may be undercounting heat deaths

    The negligence of officials is making it difficult for people whose relatives have
    died of sunstroke to claim compensation.

    https://scroll.in/article/807232/heart-attack-not-sunstroke-telanganas-curious-list-of-deaths-due-to-heat-waves

  11. Apneaman on Mon, 19th Jun 2017 11:41 am 

    Plenty of frozen water melting.

    Thin ice: Vanishing ice only exacerbates a bad, climate change-fueled situation

    How’s the Earth’s ice system changing? Look to the active cryosphere.

    “Most people view our planet’s vanishing ice as a symptom of climate change. And if they pay a bit more attention, some people might even be aware of some of its effects, including sea level rise and the opening up of the Arctic to shipping. But ice is also an active player in the Earth’s climate—it doesn’t only respond to warming by melting. Changes in our planet’s ice are capable of feeding back on the climate system, creating further consequences for the globe.

    The regions of our planet where temperatures fall below the freezing point are characterized by ice and snow, lots of ice and snow. Across land masses, seas, and oceans, roughly 70 percent of the fresh water exists as ice. But now, in response to the warming of our planet, that entire system is changing.

    This part of the Earth, where water exists in its frozen state, is called the cryosphere. On land, this includes the giant ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, the ice in mountain glaciers, snow on mountain tops, and frozen soil in boreal and tundra regions of the Northern Hemisphere—including large parts of Canada and Russia.”

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/06/thin-ice-vanishing-ice-only-exacerbates-a-bad-climate-change-fueled-situation/

    “…that entire system is changing” Indeed.

  12. Hubert on Mon, 19th Jun 2017 11:48 am 

    Australia is #1 polluter of green house gas in the world, even surpassing Saudi Arabia.

  13. bobinget on Mon, 19th Jun 2017 4:53 pm 

    Bet on technology. STOP… Think… do we have a choice?

    If CC gases that have been in the pipeline for decades changing precipitation patterns, there’s F all we can do except look for ways to conserve, recycle and transport.

    Three of the most vital elements of life are inextricably tied.
    Water
    Energy
    Agriculture

    Without cheap energy, massive water desalinization, impossible.
    Without cheap energy farming becomes a full time activity… For everyone. No time to see a play,
    write a book, go online.

    Everyone should live in a water scarce environment
    for a few months before undergoing teenager ship.

    Finally, pipelines. unlike oil and gas pipelines water lines should be uncontroversial.
    The Great Lakes are the Saudi Arabia of water.
    First make certain farmers, cities are into conservation. Then, sell water from the Great lakes
    on a non profit basis.

    Their thousands of miles NG pipelines too old be transporting NG. But not so leaky they can’t be epoxied to shlep water.

    Link: unused NG pipelines:
    http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=map+of+unused+ng+pipelines%2c+usa&qpvt=map+of+unused+NG+pipelines%2c+USA&qpvt=map+of+unused+NG+pipelines%2c+USA&qpvt=map+of+unused+NG+pipelines%2c+USA&FORM=IGRE

  14. bobinget on Mon, 19th Jun 2017 4:57 pm 

    ‘There are’
    On some pipelines it’s the right-of-way that’s valuable. The thing may be 75 or a hundred years
    old but can still protect a plastic insert.

  15. dooma on Tue, 20th Jun 2017 3:02 am 

    Hubert. I totally agree that per capita we are the worst emitters. Always sounds better than saying in 2013 Australia contributed 1.49% of the world’s CO2 and the US burped out over a quarter, 25.93%.

    Yes we should be embarrassed at that statistic. Until you start to have a good look at what merchants of death USA truly are. Selling a myriad of killing and maiming war toys to pretty much anyone with a valid credit card.

    Why even those A-rabs are welcome to step-right-up and have a crack at turning kids into cripples. People into pink mist.

    As long as it is kosher then it is a deal.

  16. makati1 on Tue, 20th Jun 2017 6:55 am 

    dooma, that 25%+ from the U$ should include a big chunk of that from China as the U$ shipped most of its polluting companies to China and then it buys back the products and blames China for their pollution. Hypocrites all.

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