Get Ready for the Water Wars

ON 10/13/2021 AT 11:58 PM

The UN Meteorological Organization (WMO) just released a report showing the climate crisis will cause the number of people without enough potable water will rise to 5 billion by 2050. That will be over half the world\'s population.

Drought region in Madhya Pradesh, India, in 2019

Woman walking in the hot sun in Bandhavgarh, Madhya Pradesh, India, in April 2019. This is one of the regions identified in the latest release of the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas as suffering from extreme water scarcity. Photo: Kandukuru Nagarjun, CC

Global heating has accelerated the lack of fresh surface water, ground water, and water embedded in snow, ice, and soil, by a net of 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) annually. It is why one-quarter of all cities now experience water shortages on a regular basis.

The 2021 State of Climate Services report from the WMO reveals that over 2 billion people around the planet are in countries with water stress and 3.5 billion have inadequate access to water for at least one month every year. That represents over 44% of the global population of 7.9 billion this year.

Three decades from now the total population which will be without sufficient water will have grown to 5 billion. That works out to 52% of the estimated global population of 9.7 billion at that time, according to other UN statistics.

Think about that. By 2050 one out of every two people on the planet will not have access to enough fresh water to survive.

The report also notes that, for every 2° C (3.6° F) increase in global temperatures this century, “assuming a constant population, an additional 8% of the population now will be exposed to new or aggravated water scarcity.”

According to the WMO analysis, the regions suffering the worst from water stress in 2018 were Northern Africa (109%), Central Asia (80%), Southern Asia (78%), and Western Asia (60%).

Global Water Stress Hotspots in 2021

Global water stress hotspots in 2021, as identified by the WMO. Hotspot areas are those classified by the Food and Agriculture Organization as water scarce and by the World Resources Institute as areas with high or extremely high-water stress Photo: World Meteorological Organization

"At a country level," the study continued, "35 countries are experiencing water stress of between 25-75% and 25 countries are considered seriously stressed, with figures above 75%."

If that were not bad enough, the UN notes that 107 of the 195 countries in the world are currently “off track to hit the goal of sustainably managing their water resources by 2030” through an effective Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) program.

“In 2020,” the report goes on, “3.6 billion people lacked adequate sanitation services, and 2.3 billion lacked basic hygiene services. The current rates of progress need to quadruple in order to reach the global target of universal access by 2030.”

Current infrastructure spending on water programs virtually everywhere is currently far less than that. Meanwhile, the report goes on, “the number and duration of droughts since 2000 …increased by 29%.” Most of the deaths tied to droughts occur in Africa, a region which despite its rapid economic and population growth remains grossly underreported. This is especially so in Sub-Saharan Africa, where available water sources are rapidly dwindling.

At the same time that the amount of potable water is literally drying up in much of the world, the report also notes how extreme weather events have increased flood-related water disasters by 134%. The UN notes that most of these were recorded in Asia, which are rarely given the same coverage as equivalent flood-related disasters in locations such as Germany and Belgium this summer.

Besides the obvious that there is growing inequity in how the climate crisis is affecting the world’s supply of fresh water, the World Meteorological Organization points to more ready availability of data and forecasting tools to help the world’s population survive this increasing threat to humanity’s survival. As it notes, for the members of the WMO:

  • In approximately 43% of all countries there is “inadequate interaction among climate services providers and information users.”
  • Two-thirds of all countries lack access to almost any hydrological data.
  • Data is not even collected to support basic water management in 40% of countries.
  • Over one third of countries have inadequate flood forecasting and early warning systems. For those that do, only 44% of countries’ make their systems available to the over 67% of the population still at risk. That forecasting data is in fact being shared even less than in the past, as for example between China and India where China has the more powerful rainfall and flood forecasting technologies of the two – and yet restricts access to more of its data every year to its southern neighbor.
  • Drought forecasting and warning system are equally inadequate in 54% of nations that provided data of that kind. Such data is also shared even less with the two-thirds of global populations at risk for that as well, with just 27% of the few such systems’ data being shared.
  • There is inadequate interaction among climate services providers and information users in 43% of countries represented within the WMO organization.

With less water for all, access to clean and safe sanitary and drinking water come first to mind as pressure points. But riverine and other freshwater sources are also critical to agriculture, transport, and hydroelectrical power more than ever. All living creatures require access to water as well, and the lack of it is creating high stress to global ecosystems.

What this report makes clear is the path to water survival ideally relates to global cooperation in data analysis, forecasting, and alternative solutions to provide adequate water supplies to everyone.

Unfortunately for all, as the pattern of inadequate data-sharing shows, the more likely scenario which is already showing up throughout the planet is to fight for control of water systems on a national basis. This is present in Africa in locations such as Ethiopia, which is tightly securing water access to keep its hydroelectric power systems functioning as effectively as possible. In Asia China is dominating water management throughout the Mekong Delta region which extends down into Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

There is also a growing pattern of wealthy but already arid countries such as the United Arab Emirates beginning extensive use of conventional aircraft as well as specially designed drone aircraft for cloud-seeding. While the technology is already benefiting the UAE, the presence of large-scale cloud seeding will eventually further disrupt global rainfall patterns.

As this fight for control heats up along with the temperature of the planet and resources dry out, this will result in regional wars. This time the battle will be over lakes, rivers, and streams, who gets to decide how much flows from each and who gets it.

Climate Survival Solutions is developing effective wastewater management and conversion solutions that could provide relief to some, but much more will need to be done.