The Fruits of Civilization (71-13) Freshwater continued


World water use rose 10-fold in the 20th century, with the bulk of the extraction in the 2nd half of the century. Most of this increase was attained by draining underground aquifers.

With global warming and the demands of growing populations, water shortages can be expected throughout most the world within the next 20–30 years. Through pollution and overexploitation, a majority of people worldwide will no longer have access to potable water from a nearby source.

The Middle East and northern Africa are especially threatened in the near-term. But other parts of the world – including the western US, Mexico, southern Europe, and Australia – face imminent shortfalls.

The impacts of climate change will be channeled primarily through the water cycle, with consequences that could be large and uneven across the globe. Water-related climate risks cascade through food, energy, urban, and environmental systems. Growing populations, rising incomes, and expanding cities will converge upon a world where the demand for water rises exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain. If current water management policies persist, and climate models prove correct, water scarcity will proliferate to regions where it currently does not exist and will greatly worsen in regions where water is already scarce. ~ Australian environmental economist Richard Damania et al for The World Bank

The impact of water scarcity on economies, and cost in lives, will be much greater than anticipated. Otherwise, something other than business as usual would already be in the works. Instead, governments are not even bothering to price water as a scarce resource, let alone rationally ration usage. Governments around the globe are failing to husband one of the most precious commodities: freshwater.

(The other essential precious resource is, of course, clean air. As with water, governments have demonstrated their gross incompetence by tolerating pollution that creates insufferable air.)

Water stress already afflicts 25% of cities worldwide. Big cities in the Middle East and Asia lose up to 60% of their water supply to leaky pipes. London spills 30% of its water in leaks. Wooden pipes still carry some of Chicago’s water.

Poor countries, where a billion people live in slums without proper sanitation, need more pipes in the first place, not to mention reservoirs and purification plants. There is no reason to think that they will get those things.

Meeting humanity’s increasing demand for freshwater and protecting ecosystems at the same time will be one of the most difficult and important challenges of this century. ~ Ethiopian hydrologist Mesfin Mekonnen & Dutch hydrologist Arjen Hoekstra

The time is fast approaching when the inability of humanity to sensibly allocate resources and control consumption will create crises and conflicts without resolution besides death on a large scale. Water scarcity is bound to be at the forefront.

Groundwater depletion the world over poses a far greater threat to global water security than is currently acknowledged. ~ James Famiglietti in 2014