Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Plenty of Water, But is There Enough to Drink?
England’s third dry winter in a row has led British authorities to call for conservation measures, while China’s government has warned that two-thirds of the country’s cities face severe water shortages because of drought and rampant consumption.
“We’ve got a drought here that is now embracing three winters, and that’s why it’s serious,” said Terry J. Marsh, head of the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Britain.
A year ago it was mainly farmers concerned about dry conditions, “but now concern extends to the environment and most particularly water resources.”
Prolonged dry spells have threatened parts of China, Russia, Australia, France, Spain, Portugal and the southern United States in recent years – affecting food output but also raising worries about the long-term stability of water supplies.
There is no universal ruling on whether these occurrences are cyclical nuisances or evidence of changing climate patterns that could grow more severe in the decades ahead. But there is general agreement that humans need to change their consumption habits and become more efficient water users.
“Climate variability is something humanity has faced throughout our history,” says Jan Lundqvist, senior scientific advisor at the Stockholm International
Water Institute, “but the severity of the droughts is increasing.”
Last month, UN officials appealed to the European Union and other donors for food and water to prevent some 10 million people from starving in Africa’s parched Sahel region, just months after the worst drought in more than 50 years caused food crisis in East Africa.
The road to Marseille and Rio
Water regulation and future supply threats are among the topics being discussed 12-17 March during the World Water Forum in Marseille. EU leaders also pledge to bring put water conservation on the agenda at the June UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.
The European Commission, which has declared 2012 the Year of Water, is also preparing to review some of Europe’s water legislation and policies over the next year.
Droughts can be relatively localised events, as is the case in the United Kingdom, where the dry spells have affected mainly central, southern and eastern England while precipitation has been normal in other areas.
Globally, water problems may have less to do with rainfall than how water is used – a challenge that will become more profound in the decades ahead. Earth’s population doubled from 1950 to 1990, and the UN says it is on course to nearly double again, to more than 9 billion, by 2050.
Pollution and consumption threaten freshwater globally, but even more so in areas are severely strained today – the urban Middle East along with South Asia and Africa.
“The constraints of our available water resources become more apparent day be day,” Hu siyi, a senior Chinese water official, told reporters last month in warning that two-thirds of the country’s cities were facing water shortages.