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The world has even bigger water problems than we thought

The world has even bigger water problems than we thought thumbnail

Alarming new research has found that 4 billion people around the globe — including close to 2 billion in India and China — live in conditions of extreme water scarcity at least one month during the year. Half a billion, meanwhile, experience it throughout the entire year.

The new study, by Mesfin Mekonnen and Arjen Hoekstra of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, uses a high resolution global model to examine the availability of “blue water” — both surface and underground freshwater — in comparison with the demand for it from agriculture, industry and human household needs. The model — which zoomed in on areas as small as 60 kilometers by 60 kilometers in size at the equator — also took into account climatic factors, ecological ones (how much water is needed to sustain a river ecosystem or lake) and other causes of depletion such simple evaporation.

“We find that 4 billion people live in areas that experience severe water scarcity at least part of the year, which is more than previously thought, based on those earlier studies done on an annual basis,” says Hoekstra, who published the work in Science Advances Friday. “You have to look really month by month, in order to get the scarcity.”

Those prior studies had given totals of about 1.7 to 3.1 billion, rather than the current 4 billion. The new total includes 120 million people living in the United States, principally in California as well as other western states.

Water demand is increasing across the globe as populations and agriculture expand, but the study says that there is enough total global water for all needs. However, the problem is that there isn’t always enough in every place where it is needed, when it is needed.

“High water scarcity levels appear to prevail in areas with either high population density…or the presence of much irrigated agriculture…or both,” write the authors. Indeed, they also note that in key parts of the world — including the Ganges and Limpopo river basins — “blue water consumption and blue water availability are countercyclical, with water consumption being highest when water availability is lowest.”

By far the leading source of human water demand is agriculture, says Hoekstra, followed by businesses. Individual human homes tend to require the least water overall, about 1 to 4 percent of the total, he says.

In the study, conditions of severe water scarcity were determined to exist in an area when there was twice as much water demand as there was availability.

It’s important to stress, Hoekstra says, that water scarcity does not mean humans will suddenly go without drinking water. First, facing conditions of scarcity, it is possible to withdraw more water than is ultimately sustainable from rivers, lakes, or groundwater systems. That’s precisely what happened, the study notes, in the Aral Sea in Central Asia (pictured above), which the paper calls “the most prominent example of a disappearing lake as a result of reduced river inflow.”

Moreover, if severe water shortages occur, the main impact is usually upon agricultural systems and farmers, since they need the most water to begin with.

“You can never say that people have no drinking water because of water scarcity,” says Hoekstra. “It’s really about limited water to agriculture, so it impacts farmers, and food security.” Thus, what the research really underscores is which regions may face food crises in the future if they get particularly low amounts of rainfall or enter into an extended period of drought.

In such situations, what matters next is relative wealth or poverty. Rich societies can buy their food and their water from elsewhere. Poor ones are in a totally different situation.

“If it’s a poor country, then the country will be really in trouble, and people will have no food,” Hoekstra says.

Or as the study concludes: “Meeting humanity’s increasing demand for freshwater and protecting ecosystems at the same time, thus maintaining blue water footprints within maximum sustainable levels per catchment, will be one of the most difficult and important challenges of this century.”

Wash Post

18 Comments on "The world has even bigger water problems than we thought"

  1. makati1 on Fri, 12th Feb 2016 6:52 pm 


  2. makati1 on Fri, 12th Feb 2016 7:04 pm 

    In other news: “Americans Have Never Been Fatter: Obesity Rate Rises To Highest Level On Record”

    “… This generation of Americans is the first that will have a shorter life expectancy than the previous generation, and obesity is one of the biggest contributors to this shortened life expectancy because it is driving a lot of chronic health conditions … That’s right, America. A third of you are grossly overweight. As it turns out, whites have seen the sharpest uptick, with obesity rates climbing
    2.8% since 2008 … another 35.6% of adults are classified as overweight…”

    The “exceptional” country is having exceptional problems. Junk minds and junk food go hand in hand… to the grave.

  3. Apneaman on Fri, 12th Feb 2016 7:11 pm 

    ““You can never say that people have no drinking water because of water scarcity,” says Hoekstra.”

    Tell it to the California homeowners and renters who have no water in their well anymore because the farmer next door has a bigger drinking straw. If one’s home well is sucked dry, they now have a personal “water scarcity” and don’t give a shit about clever definitions from a weasley academic in the Netherlands.

  4. twocats on Fri, 12th Feb 2016 8:11 pm 

    Back in 2010, in California, when they were implementing the ARB on-road diesel emission reductions the water drill rig companies submitted a study that basically laid out, “If you enact these laws against well-drill rigs there are people who won’t have water” and that was six years ago — people were drilling like crazy.

  5. Pennsyguy on Fri, 12th Feb 2016 10:38 pm 

    Not to worry Mak:
    By the end of the century at the latest, the few people alive in the former USA will be lean and mean for their entire 30-40 year lifespans.

  6. makati1 on Fri, 12th Feb 2016 11:54 pm 

    Got that right, Pennsyguy. ^_^

  7. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 13th Feb 2016 3:07 am 

    Are we at peak Fat ?

    The real problem is they lack enough willpower to put the donut down.

  8. bug on Sat, 13th Feb 2016 6:20 am 

    Go, Peak USA blubber will be cured easily when people are picking weeds and tubers from fields to munch on.

  9. penury on Sat, 13th Feb 2016 11:15 am 

    In the U.S. are we at peak water? or are the distribution systems failing? or maybe we have both predicaments plus we have too many people for the resources available. We are the world (at least we think so)

  10. Apneaman on Sat, 13th Feb 2016 12:56 pm 

    Proud Species Commits Suicide Rather Than Be Driven To Extinction By Humans

    “COOS BAY, OR—Amidst rapidly deteriorating environmental conditions that have left the species in imminent danger of extinction, the world’s leatherback sea turtles announced plans Tuesday to commit mass suicide rather than allow human beings to wipe them out. “For years we’ve just been sitting around waiting for these assholes to finish us off, but I say if we’re gonna go out, we do it on our own terms,” said a 25-year-old female leatherback, who along with others of her species confirmed she would rather throw herself into the rudder of a fishing boat than “give those cocksuckers the satisfaction of finishing the job.” “Any of us who managed to survive this massacre would at best end up displayed in an aquarium or penned up in some bullshit ocean preserve, and what kind of life is that? No thanks. We’re leaving this world with our dignity intact.” Several leatherback turtles added that while suicide was indeed their most respectable option, they would regret not being around later this century to see the human race itself driven to extinction.”

  11. makati1 on Sat, 13th Feb 2016 8:02 pm 

    bug, yes, they will all be dead. With obesity goes multiple health problems like diabetes and heart failure. No meds. No life.

  12. Apneaman on Sat, 13th Feb 2016 9:10 pm 

    Two Coasts, One Problem: In Florida, GOP Leaders Think Voters Are Stupid

    “Why do GOP officials think you are stupid? Simple. They think they can hide the state’s afflicted waters, the massively polluted Lake Okeechobee, by shoving it into the Everglades.

    Historic rainfalls in January surfaced the mismanagement of water resources in Florida. Simply put, Florida’s water flows downhill toward the political wealth of Big Sugar billionaires like Florida Crystal’s Fanjul family or the Mott’s of US Sugar. Buttressed by phalanxes of lobbyists and the most highly paid attorneys in Florida, plus hirelings in the state legislature, Big Sugar dictates outcomes for the rest of the state.

    Growing sugarcane on 500,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee requires year-round irrigation: never too wet, never too dry. Call it the Goldilocks principle because, once federal farm subsidies are added to the mix, sugar turns to gold.

    The operation requires the use of Lake Okeechobee as a vast septic tank for agricultural runoff. It all works very well — except when extraordinary rainfall requires the release of water from the Lake. Then, it is not just the Everglades that suffer the consequences: highly toxic flood water pours — billions of gallons per day — through the rivers and estuaries serving both Florida coasts and onto the shorefront of millions of property owners, residents, businesses and taxpayers on both coasts.

    Two coasts, one problem. And possibly some cracks in the wall.”


  13. Dooma on Sun, 14th Feb 2016 12:42 am 

    Suicidal turtles? Must be part of aquaida.

  14. Kenz300 on Sun, 14th Feb 2016 10:27 am 

    Too many people……….create too much pollution and demand too many resources….

    China made great progress in moving its people out of poverty…….one reason was slowing population growth…..

    If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child.

    CLIMATE CHANGE, declining fish stocks, droughts, floods, air water and land pollution, poverty, water and food shortages all stem from the worlds worst environmental problem……. OVER POPULATION.

    Yet the world adds 80 million more mouths to feed, clothe, house and provide energy and water for every year… this is unsustainable… and is a big part of the Climate Change problem

    Birth Control Permanent Methods: Learn About Effectiveness

  15. Apneaman on Sun, 14th Feb 2016 1:05 pm 

    Kenz, China “moved” people out of poverty because they industrialized at a scale unprecedented in human history. The price of your so called progress (progress = more middle class fucks like you) is China matched 200 years of western toxic environmental destruction in only 30 years. Kenz, much of it was to feed spoiled entitled western assholes like you with a never ending stream of consumer goods that only “educated” people can afford. Kenz you suffer the same tunnel vision as your nemesis the American conservatard. Like him you mindlessly repeat thinktank slogans without any independent thought or investigation on your part. It’s all true because Naomi Klein or Bill McKibben or any of the other NGO industrial complex spokes puppets say so. The claim by conservatards that environmentalism is a religion actually has some merit in that many of it’s adherents don’t really understand the evidence and are simply cheering for the home team – same as corny econ 101/FF cheerleaders, because that’s what tribal cheerleaders do. Oh the apes have trashed the environment they evolved in beyond repair and in fact it is much worse than these enviro groups would have you believe, but they can’t tell you that since hope is what they are selling. Enviro hopium pushing has high status rewards. Your constant meme of providing for yourself is a fucking joke coming from an American who would be working in a field or factory if not for the fact that your over priced education was paid for by fossil fuels and the exploitation and theft of 3rd world peoples resources and labour since western imperialism started. Pray tell little Kenny, what special service do you provide to the world that justifies your 80 X’s greater than an average 3rd worlders ecological footprint? Your education? The mere fact that you been schooled educated elevates you above billions of others? China’s one child policy was not a triumph of science and education, it was as much a brutal totalitarian prescription and there are mountains of dead fetuses to attest to it and untold numbers of dead women who never survived the botched abortions. At least it gave western progressives something to hold up as a victory eh?

  16. ghung on Sun, 14th Feb 2016 1:20 pm 

    Kenz never responds to challenges to its comments, or anything else. It’s a tar baby, without the tar.

  17. Apneaman on Sun, 14th Feb 2016 10:21 pm 

    Saudi groundwater “will run out in 13 years”–621171.html

  18. sidzepp on Sun, 14th Feb 2016 11:19 pm 

    The world’s population has doubled in the last fifty years and so has the standard of living for many people in the developing world as the attempt to emulate the standards of the western world. As long as the haves adopt policies of preservation of their lifestyles, the wanna haves attempt to join, and the poor bastards on the bottom dream of having their own Starbucks and fifty inch screens the world will continue to march towards oblivion. As long as the oligarchs running the show can see quarterly profits, what the rest of us think and do doesn’t mean squat.

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