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Page added on February 23, 2018

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The world’s taps are rapidly running dry


The world has abundant fresh water but it is unevenly distributed and under increasing pressure, United Nations agencies say, as highlighted by the drought in Cape Town.

On Tuesday South Africa declared the drought that has hit parts of the country and threatened to leave the Mother City without domestic tap water a national disaster.

More than 97% of the planet’s water is salty, most of it in the oceans and seas. But every year about 42.8-trillion cubic metres of renewable fresh water circulates as rain, surface water or groundwater, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

This equals 16 216 litres a person a day — four times the amount required in the United States, for example, for personal and domestic consumption, industry and agriculture.

Depending on diet and lifestyle, a person needs between 2 000 and 5 000 litres of water a day to produce their food and meet their drinking and sanitation requirements, the FAO says.

About 60% of the planet’s fresh water reserve is locked up in the Antarctic ice cap.

Of the rest, more than a quarter is in Central and Latin America, which is 60 times more than that available in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The fact is there is enough water to meet the world’s growing needs but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the UN said in 2015.

In the FAO’s most recent data (2014), it said 45 countries were experiencing water shortages, defined as less than one million litres a person a year. Twenty-nine were in a situation of extreme shortage, with less than 500 000 litres a person a year.

A third of the planet’s population depends on groundwater and the UN has warned of the danger of over-using these reserves. Groundwater reserves in part of India’s Ganges basin, southern Spain, Italy and California’s central valley could be drained dry within decades, it says.

Countries such as Canada, Russia and Peru use just 1% of their renewable fresh water. But others far overuse supply, such as Israel at 261% and Bahrain at 8.935%.

Countries that use more than their renewable supply of water draw from nonrenewable underground water or desalinated sea water, as in the case of Bahrain.

The global use of fresh water doubled between 1964 and 2014 because of population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation and increased production and consumption, the UN says. The demand for water in cities is expected to grow by 50% by 2030.

“Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP, spur migration and spark conflict,” the World Bank said in 2016.

Farming is the biggest consumer of water globally (70%). Industry uses 19% and households 11%, according to the FAO.

But there are wide disparities at the regional level. In South Asia agriculture accounts for 91% of water use, against only 7% in homes and 2% in industry.

But in the European Union and North America industry consumes more than half the fresh water supply, ahead of agriculture (under 34%) and domestic use (under 18%).

The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said in a 2014 report that, for every degree Celsius of global warming, about 7% of the world’s population will see a drop of at least 20% in renewable water resources.

Scientists calculate the planet has already warmed one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution kick-started the spewing of man-made, planet-heating gases into the atmosphere.

The IPCC projects more frequent and severe droughts in already dry regions, reducing surface water and groundwater stocks. The effect will depend on the level of warming.

11 Comments on "The world’s taps are rapidly running dry"

  1. bobinget on Fri, 23rd Feb 2018 1:32 pm 


  2. dave thompson on Fri, 23rd Feb 2018 1:59 pm 

    “Scientists calculate the planet has already warmed one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution kick-started the spewing of man-made, planet-heating gases into the atmosphere.”
    The real fun starts when we get an ice free arctic. Even as soon as this year.

  3. Antius on Fri, 23rd Feb 2018 10:47 pm 

    Strange that since the early 90s South Africa has progressively turned to crap.

    I wonder what could be responsible for such a deterioration?

  4. Antius on Fri, 23rd Feb 2018 11:38 pm 

    A nation is built on the strength of its people, I guess…

    Water shortages are one of many problems these people now have. I can’t help but think that things would be better if the Afrikaaners were still in charge. They understood the situation in a way that western idealistic Marxists never have. Instead, they were deposed and the country they worked hard to build is descending into anarchy. Ironically, this isn’t exactly good news for the 60 million blacks in the country. But idealism always matters more than real results to lefty trash. Wisdom isn’t exactly a strong suit for the sort of people drawn into these sorts of political movements. They tend towards moral absolutism and never consider that right and wrong are about more than how fair something might seem in the short term. There is nothing just or right about leading people down a blind alley no matter how good it makes you feel in the short term. These people were and are assholes.

  5. Kat C on Sat, 24th Feb 2018 3:44 am 

    Antius, who then do you blame for taps almost running dry in California

  6. drwater on Sat, 24th Feb 2018 10:47 am 

    Water scarcity is mostly a function of poor long term planning and inadequate water rights laws. It has been and will be exacerbated by climate change in many areas.

  7. onlooker on Sat, 24th Feb 2018 2:14 pm 

    Ah yes the little problem of potable water. No worry we can desalination plants. Ah the little problem of energy, no worry we finally can harness fusion energy. Ah the little problem of overpopulation, never fear we have bioengineering to produce food anywhere. Ah the little problem od waste/pollution. Getting the picture. It is called limits to growth and diminishing returns on technology or unintended consequences to technology. Tread carefully humans you are not God

  8. Kat C on Sat, 24th Feb 2018 7:59 pm 

    Spot on onlooker

  9. Dredd on Sun, 25th Feb 2018 4:49 am 

    The ice sheets contain most of the fresh water on Earth.

    It is another problem that the fresh water in them is flowing into the oceans to become undrinkable (Wooden Ships).

    How fast is the big question now.

  10. Davy on Sun, 25th Feb 2018 6:00 am 

    We went through a winter here in the Missouri Ozarks that went from severe drought to no drought in a one week period.

    “Climate Change Driven Record Atmospheric Moisture Produces Major Flooding in Central U.S.”

    “A massive double-barrel high pressure system sitting off the U.S. East Coast generated strong south-to-north winds running over sea surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico ranging from 1 to 5 C warmer than average. These winds reaped the waters of a much larger than normal load of water vapor and then pumped it over the Central U.S. The result was record atmospheric moisture levels running over the region producing significant and abnormally intense rain storms. Now, many areas are under flood warnings with moderate-to-major flooding expected.”

    “The large high pressure system driving such a significant moisture flow over the Central U.S. today is also climate change related. Earlier this week, the high hit a record intensity — spurring a never-before-seen spate of record warm temperatures across the U.S. northeast. The high, in its turn was fueled by a warming-driven polar vortex collapse in the Arctic which generated the intense ridge pattern that allowed it to bloom and sprawl. What we are seeing, therefore, is a kind of climate change related synergy between severe polar warming and more intense ridge and trough patterns in the middle latitudes. Add in the factor of warmer sea surfaces and this changed atmospheric circulation is enabled to more efficiently tap related higher atmospheric moisture levels to fuel the more intense storms we’re seeing today.”

  11. Go Speed Racer on Mon, 26th Feb 2018 4:09 am 

    check out the giant crack in the ground

    Looks like the crack is because they drank all the water out of the underground aquifer.

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