Tuesday, December 20, 2011

By 2050, Water Shortages in Megacities May Leave 1 Billion Thirsty

Written by: Anna Loza


new study authored by researchers at the Nature Conservancy concludes that by 2050, there will be about 1 billion people living with perennial water shortages. A water shortage is defined as having less than 100 liters of water per person per day – about 2/3 of a bathtub – to cover all daily needs.
Currently, it is estimated that 150 million people experience such a shortage for at least one month of the year; however, world population is estimated to increase by 3 billion in the next 40 years. By looking at these numbers as well as at climate change projections, the researchers were able to issue some warnings to the worldwide community.
One of the major effects forecasted in the study is the migration of people towards cities and urban populations. As cities grow, so do their water needs. Although water may be supplied to the area, it may have to be pumped from very far away, or unsustainably drain aquifers – a technique that inevitably runs the system dry. As a result, it is estimated that megacities like Mumbai and Beijing – among others on a list of 20 – will be hit the hardest. We reported on an analysis of current water shortages, and alarmingly, some regions hit both lists.
The report estimates that if cities reach out as far as 100 km away, the risk of a water shortage falls significantly, but one has to consider the transportation methods such a distance would require, as well as the likelihood of neighboring cities wanting that water for themselves.
Aside from the challenges our water supply will face from an increasing population, global warming will have some concurring effects. By looking at several projections of the effect global warming will have on various areas it was concluded that events like desertification may leave another 100 million short on water year-round, unless cities can adjust beforehand.
If cities continue to suck in water without change to other systems, the year 2050 may see water issues in more than just urban location – wetlands, freshwater ecosystems, rivers, lakes and marshes will also be hit hard and dwindle. Places that balance a growing population and rare ecology, like India, will face challenging times without some changes to their infrastructure.
Knowing the problem may be half the solution, but solving this problem takes one scarce thing – large amounts of money. Decreasing agricultural and industrial water usage will have a huge impact, as these are the biggest consumers of water worldwide, but it won’t be enough. Offering farmers incentives to decrease irrigation to minimal levels as well as getting rid of non-native thirsty species like Eucalyptus may help, but it won’t bring a full resolution. Infrastructure needs to change dramatically in order to keep cities abreast of demand, and such change takes a lot of money.
The places that are already hit hardest, let alone are on a straight track toward more deficiencies by 2050 are also some of the poorest countries. Although a handful of the periled nations have some good resources, a lot of them need international help if they are to resolve this issue before it gets out of hand.
Perennial water shortage is felt most in the Middle East and North Africa, but seasonal shortages are currently quite widespread and will be more so by 2050.
The researchers call upon urban water managers to work with nature in order to find the most optimal solutions to this crisis; however, wealthier nations and those with better conditions should play a role as well. Some suggested solutions are to build larger reserves for seasonal shortages, utilizing long-distance transport for perennial shortages or investing in desalination; the authors hope to see strong political will and the effective governance necessary to find appropriate solutions.
Lead author Rob McDonald has the following Utopian vision:
Picture this: Instead of each country having to separately borrow funds to build urban water infrastructure, there’s a common pool of money that could finance urban water planning and management in all developing country cities. To some extent, that exists now with some of the major development banks. But there’s a potential I think for that kind of thing to be substantially scaled up.
Not a bad idea, since such a basal crisis will undoubtedly effect the international community, in the form of water shortages or other direct effects on food prices and the economy.
Robert Lalasz has the 20 megacities projected to be hit the hardest by 2050 if no action is taken:
  1. Delhi, India
  2. Mumbai (Bombay), India
  3. Mexico City, Mexico
  4. Lagos, Nigeria
  5. Tehran, Iran
  6. Calcutta, India
  7. Manila, Philippines
  8. Cotonou, Benin
  9. Johannesburg, South Africa
  10. Beijing, China
  11. Abidjan, Ivory Coast
  12. Caracas, Venezuela
  13. Chennai (Madras), India
  14. Bangalore, India
  15. Dubai/Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  16. Lahore, Pakistan
  17. Hyderabad, India
  18. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  19. Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem/Haifa, Israel
  20. Shenyang, China
Civilizations have struggled with water shortages many times in the history of humanity, and it seems that it is now our time to take stock of the situation. Hopefully we’re prepared to make some wise decisions to safeguard our future.
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All images: Featured image by Meena Kadri, Flickr/CC, Nature Conservancy Report, viaGrist

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