Great World War for Water' Looming, Pope Francis Warns
February 28, 2017
RT News & The National Geographic & The Huffington Post & Bread for the World
Water scarcity may cause conflict and the whole globe may be on its way to a great world war over water. Underground water is being pumped so aggressively around the globe that land is sinking, civil wars are being waged, and agriculture is being transformed. About two-thirds of the world's population faces water scarcity for at least one month during the year. The United Nations predicts a global shortfall in water by 2030.
'Great World War for Water'
May Be Looming, Pope Francis Says
(February 25, 2017) -- Water scarcity may cause conflict and the whole globe may be on its way to a great world war over water, Pope Francis has warned, adding that the situation is very "urgent."
"The right to water is essential for the survival of persons and decisive for the future of humanity," Pope Francis said during a meeting with international experts participating in a 'Dialogue on Water' at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on February 24, as cited by americamagazine.org.
"All people have a right to safe drinking water," he said, adding "I ask [myself] if in this piecemeal third world war that we are living through, are we not going toward a great world war for water?"
Pope Francis said that the figures on water published by the United Nations cannot leave the world indifferent.
Every day, a thousand children die of illness linked to water and contaminated water is consumed by millions of people every day . . . This situation must be stopped and reversed. Fortunately, this is not impossible, but it is urgent," the pontiff said, as cited by ANSA news agency.
A February 2017 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that "groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly," citing "water scarcities" as one of the major problems.
"Mankind's future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate," it said.
In 2016, UN Water released a report saying that about 663 million people "lack ready access to improved sources of drinking water, while the number of people without reliable access to water of good enough quality to be safe for human consumption is at least 1.8 billion."
Since Catholic cardinals elected him as pope in March 2013, Pope Francis has become known for his liberal approach and emotional, caring statements that reach out to the poor and sexual minorities.
In 2015, Pope Francis warned that those harming the environment and the "powerful of the earth" will face the wrath of God of they don't protect the environment and make sure everyone has enough to eat.
During a UN summit in 2015, he stated that helping the poor and excluded is part of saving the planet.
Without referring to any specific countries or individuals, the pontiff blasted a "selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity," leading to "both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged."
What You Need to Know About the World's Water Wars
Laura Parker / The National Geographic
(July 14, 2016) -- Beijing is sinking.
In some neighborhoods, the ground is giving way at a rate of four inches a year as water in the giant aquifer below it is pumped.
The groundwater has been so depleted that China's capital city, home to more than 20 million people, could face serious disruptions in its rail system, roadways, and building foundations, an international team of scientists concluded earlier this year. Beijing, despite tapping into the gigantic North China Plain aquifer, is the world's fifth most water-stressed city and its water problems are likely to get even worse.
Beijing isn't the only place experiencing subsidence, or sinking, as soil collapses into space created as groundwater is depleted. Parts of Shanghai, Mexico City, and other cities are sinking, too. Sections of California's Central Valley have dropped by a foot, and in some localized areas, by as much as 28 feet.
Around the world, alarms are being sounded about the depletion of underground water supplies. The United Nations predicts a global shortfall in water by 2030. About 30 percent of the planet's available freshwater is in the aquifers that underlie every continent.
More than two-thirds of the groundwater consumed around the world irrigates agriculture, while the rest supplies drinking water to cities. These aquifers long have served as a backup to carry regions and countries through droughts and warm winters lacking enough snowmelt to replenish rivers and streams.
Now, the world's largest underground water reserves in Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas are under stress. Many of them are being drawn down at unsustainable rates. Nearly two billion people rely on groundwater that is considered under threat.
Richard Damania, a lead economist at the World Bank, predicts that without adequate water supplies, economic growth in the most stressed parts of the world could decline by six percent of GDP. His findings conclude that the most severe impacts of climate change will deplete water supplies.
"If you are in a dry area, you are going to get a lot less rainfall. Run-off is declining," he says. "People are turning to groundwater in a very, very big way."
But few things are more difficult to control than groundwater pumping, Damania says. In the United States, farmers are withdrawing water at unsustainable rates from the High Plains, or Ogallala Aquifer, even though they have been aware of the threat for six decades.
"What you have in developing countries is a large number of small farmers pumping. Given that these guys are earning so little, there is very little you can do to control it," Damania says. "And you are, literally, in a race to the bottom."
Over the past three decades, Saudi Arabia has been drilling for a resource more precious than oil. Engineers and farmers have tapped hidden reserves of water to grow grains, fruits, and vegetables in the one of the driest places in the world. They are tapping into the aquifer at unsustainable rates. On these NASA satellite images of the Wadi As-Sirhan Basin, green indicates crops, contrasting with the pink and yellow of dry, barren land.
As regions and nations run short of water, Damania says, economic growth will decline and food prices will spike, raising the risk of violent conflict and waves of large migrations. Unrest in Yemen, which heavily taps into groundwater and which experienced water riots in 2009, is rooted in a water crisis.
Experts say water scarcity also helped destabilize Syria and launch its civil war. Jordan, which relies on aquifers as its only source of water, is even more water-stressed now that more than a half-million Syrian refugees arrived.
Jay Famiglietti, lead scientist on a 2015 study using NASA satellites to record changes in the world's 37 largest aquifers, says that the ones under the greatest threat are in the most heavily populated areas.
"Without sustainable groundwater reserves, global security is at far greater risk," he says. "As the dry parts are getting drier, we will rely on groundwater even more heavily. The implications are just staggering and really need to be discussed at the international level."
Below are answers to your key questions.
Where is groundwater the most threatened?
The most over-stressed is the Arabian Aquifer System, which supplies water to 60 million people in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Indus Basin aquifer in northwest India and Pakistan is the second-most threatened, and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa the third.
How did these giant basins become so depleted?
Drought, bad management of pumping, leaky pipes in big-city municipal water systems, aging infrastructure, inadequate technology, population growth, and the demand for more food production all put increasing demand on pumping more groundwater. Flood irrigation, which is inefficient, remains the dominant irrigation method worldwide. In India, the world's largest consumer of groundwater, the government subsidizes electricity – an incentive to farmers to keep pumping.
How has irrigation changed farming?
Irrigation has enabled water-intensive crops to be grown in dry places, which in turn created local economies that are now difficult to undo. These include sugar cane and rice in India, winter wheat in China, and corn in the southern High Plains of North America. Aquaculture has boomed in the land-locked Ararat Basin, which lies along the border between Armenia and Turkey.
Groundwater is cold enough to raise cold-water fish, such as trout and sturgeon. In less than two decades, the aquifer there has been drawn down so severely for fish ponds that municipal water supplies in more than two dozen communities are now threatened.
How much water remains?
More is known about oil reserves than water. Calculating what remains in aquifers is extraordinarily difficult. In 2015, scientists at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada concluded that less than six percent of groundwater above one-and-a-half miles (two kilometers) in the Earth's landmass is renewable within a human lifetime. But other hydrologists caution that measurements of stores can mislead.
More important is how the water is distributed throughout the aquifer. When water levels drop below to 50 feet or less, it is often not economically practical to pump water to the surface, and much of that water is brackish or contains so many minerals that it is unusable.
Is there any good news?
Depleted groundwater is a slow-speed crisis, scientists say, so there's time to develop new technologies and water efficiencies. In Western Australia, desalinated water has been injected to recharge the large aquifer that Perth, Australia's driest city, taps for drinking water. China is working to regulate pumping. In west Texas, the city of Abernathy is drilling into a deeper aquifer that lies beneath the High Plains aquifer and mixing the two to supplement the municipal water supply.
Laura Parker is a staff writer who specializes in covering climate change and marine environments.
Global Water Shortage Risk Is Worse Than Scientists Thought
Kim Bellware / The Huffington Post
(February 19. 2016) -- The growing risk of worldwide water shortages is worse than scientists previously thought, according to a new study.
About 66 percent, which is 4 billion people, of the world's population lives without sufficient access to fresh water for at least one month of the year, according to a new paper published Friday in the journal Science Advances.
Previous studies calculated a lower number, estimating that between 1.7 and 3.1 billion people lived with moderate to severe water scarcity for at least a month out of the year.
Scientists, led by Dr. Arjen Hoekstra of the Netherlands' University of Twente, used a computer model that is both more precise and comprehensive than previous studies have used to analyze how widespread water scarcity is across the globe. Their model considers multiple variables including: climate records, population density, irrigation and industry.
"Up to now, this type of research concentrated solely on the scarcity of water on an annual basis, and had only been carried out in the largest river basins," Hoekstra said in a statement. "That paints a more rosy and misleading picture, because water scarcity occurs during the dry period of the year."
"The fact that the scarcity of water is being regarded as a global problem is confirmed by our research," Hoekstra added. "For some time now, the World Economic Forum has placed the world water crisis in the top three of global problems, alongside climate change and terrorism."
Severe water scarcity happens when consumption is twice as high as available resources, according to the study's researchers. Consequently, half of those suffering from water scarcity are in the world's two most populous countries -- India and China -- where demand is high.
High-scarcity levels are also widespread in areas with significant irrigated agriculture (like the Great Plains in the United States) or low natural availability of fresh water (like the Arabian Desert) where populations are also relatively dense, according to the study. Similar patterns exist in the south and western United States where heavily populated states like California have been in a drought for years.
The consequences of water scarcity can result in economic losses due to crop failure, limited food availability and poor business viability, and can threaten environmental biodiversity. When faced with scarcity, areas in need of water often resort to pumping groundwater, which can permanently deplete the supply.
Water shortages have also precipitated or heightened the potential for global conflicts in places like the Middle East and Africa.
"Freshwater scarcity is a major risk to the global economy, affecting four billion people directly," Hoekstra told The New York Times. "But since the remaining people in the world receive part of their food from the affected areas, it involves us all."
Despite the grim findings, the study recommends ways to reduce scarcity, such as increasing reliance on rain-fed rather than irrigated agriculture, improving the efficiency of water usage and -- perhaps the most challenging for humans -- sharing what's available. The researchers point out that for these solutions to be effective, governments, corporations and investors will need to cooperate.
Water: Still Not a Human Right in the United States
Patricia Jones and Amber Moulton / Bread for the World.org
(February 8, 2016) -- Water is essential to life. The majority of people living in the United States have a reliable supply of safe water. But too often, poverty intersects with race and ethnicity to deny people of color and indigenous communities their human right to water.
The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) works to implement the human right to water and sanitation through support for grassroots partners, advocacy, and a legal strategy in the United States and across the globe. Thus far, only one US state, California, has enshrined the human right to water in law. In 2012, a coalition led by the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, the Safe Water Alliance, UUSC, Unitarian Universalist congregations, and other faith-based activists helped make California's human right to water bill, A.B. 685, a reality.
The main problem in the United States is the "affordable" requirement of the right to water. The international standard is that water bills should not exceed 2.5 percent of a household's monthly income. A recent study by the US Conference of Mayors found that under this standard, large percentages of the US population face water bills that are unaffordable.
By and large, municipal authorities have failed to create adequate affordability plans to help low-income residents maintain access to safe water. In 2014, the city of Detroit began disconnecting tap water service to about 35,000 residential accounts. City officials claimed that people were simply refusing to pay their bills. But in a city where 40 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, the reality was that poor households could not afford their rising water bills.
Detroit families brought a class action suit, Lyda et al v. City of Detroit, to stop the shutoffs. The plaintiffs gave harrowing examples of the impact of the shutoffs on small children, elderly people, and people with disabilities. Plaintiff Nicole Cannon was a mother of three living with a chronic illness. Her unpaid water bill had reached $3,000 because of a leak in her rental home that her landlord refused to repair.
As she struggled to pay her bills with a monthly Social Security Disability check of $648, Detroit Water and Sewer notified her that to avoid having her water shut off, she must pay $241 a month toward her balance. In her deposition, Ms. Cannon noted that this was unsustainable and that, despite seeking help from various sources, she had found no way to maintain running water in her home. She died in January 2015 at the age of 44.
One measure cities can take is to create water affordability plans that align water bills with people's actual incomes. The city of Philadelphia took a welcome step in 2015, enacting an ordinance that requires the city to research and establish an affordability plan that allows low-income water customers the opportunity to enroll in a payment plan based on their income and individual needs, while maintaining the financial sustainability of the utility. At the national level, the EPA must review its affordability guidelines and develop policies and plans that meet the needs of the country's lowest-income people.
The international human rights community has taken note of US difficulties in making the right to water a reality in practice. In 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Human Right to Water conducted a mission to the United States and met with people across the country.
In 2015, the U.N. Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of the United States recommended stepping up efforts to secure the human right to water, especially to avoid discrimination based on poverty, race, and ethnicity.
Patricia Jones is senior program leader for the Human Right to Water and Amber Moulton is a researcher for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). For more information on UUSC's human right to water program, visit their website here. This feature is adapted from a story that originally appeared on pp. 38-39 of the 2016 Hunger Report: The Nourishing Effect.
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