Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

December 3, 2006

Global Water Crisis Worsening

Filed under: Aral Sea,Water Wars — nemo @ 10:29 am

The World Bank has said that the scarcity of freshwater is likely to be one of the major factors interfering with economic development in the coming decades.

A third of the world’s population lives in "water-stressed" countries. Cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta, and Mexico City have heavily overdrawn from their groundwater aquifers. Hydrologists say large areas of northern China and Africa, and parts of the Middle East, India, Mexico, and North America are on the brink of severe water shortages.

"As a result, now 30 years on, we’re growing twice as much food but we’re using three times as much water to do it," says Fred Pearce, Environmental Consultant with the U.K. based New Scientist magazine. "The current generation of crops we’ve got are very thirsty indeed."

While researching his book When the Rivers Run Dry , Pearce traveled the world to investigate the fresh water situation. He discovered that dozens of the earth’s great rivers are running dry before they reach the sea, including the Colorado and the Rio Grande in the United States, the Nile in Egypt, the Yellow River in China, the Indus in Pakistan, the Murray in Australia, the Jordan in the Middle East, and the Oxus in Central Asia. From an interview, Pearce said:

The two biggest per capita water users on the planet are two near-desert states: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. These two former Soviet republics in central Asia are the countries responsible for emptying the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest inland sea but now a wasteland of endless and largely unexplored desert, by decanting the waters of the Amu Darya river onto their cotton fields. Their water crisis is major — and now.

Pearce says "water wars" could easily be seen in the future unless action is taken, as many of the world’s major rivers run through several countries. Egypt has threatened war on any country that takes water from the Nile without its permission, and India has been wrangling with Bangladesh over the Ganges, and with Pakistan over the Indus. The British Foreign Office has identified water as one of the most probable sources of future conflicts in Central Asia.

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