From India to Iran to Botswana, the New York Times is out with text and graphics that illustrate the 17 countries, home to one-quarter of the world’s population, that are at increasingly urgent risk of running out of water, according to new data from the World Resources Institute (WRI).
“In those countries are several big, thirsty cities that have faced acute shortages recently, including São Paulo, Brazil; Chennai, India; and Cape Town, which in 2018 narrowly beat what it called Day Zero—the day when all its dams would be dry,” the Times reports. “Many are arid countries to begin with; some are squandering what water they have. Several are relying too heavily on groundwater, which instead they should be replenishing and saving for times of drought.”
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And the Times says climate change increases the risk.
“As rainfall becomes more erratic, the water supply becomes less reliable,” the paper notes. “At the same time, as the days grow hotter, more water evaporates from reservoirs just as demand for water increases.” But in many places that are “cursed by two extremes,” the picture isn’t as simple as that: “São Paulo was ravaged by floods a year after its taps nearly ran dry. Chennai suffered fatal floods four years ago, and now its reservoirs are almost empty.”
On the whole, “we’re likely to see more of these Day Zeros in the future,” said Betsy Otto, director of WRI’s global water program. “The picture is alarming in many places around the world.”
The Times explores the depths of the looming crisis, from Cape Town to Los Angeles to Bangalore, India, where “a couple of years of paltry rains revealed how badly the city has managed its water. The many lakes that once dotted the city and its surrounding areas have either been built over or filled with the city’s waste. They can no longer be the rainwater storage tanks they once were. And so the city must venture further and further away to draw water for its 8.4 million residents, and much of it is wasted along the way.”
Adaptations to drought are available, from plugging leaks in distribution systems to recycling wastewater, from harvesting and storing rainwater to switching farm operations to less water-intensive crops. The news report also leaves out an important dimension of the story: that water systems are often their communities’ biggest energy users, while fossil energy systems are often their biggest water consumers. But ultimately, “water is a local problem and it needs local solutions,” said Priyanka Jamwal, a fellow at Bangalore’s Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.
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